The 10th president of Siena Heights University shares a message of outreach and collaboration
BE BOLD: THINK HIGHER
As a University founded and sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters, we are the beneficiaries of a rich and enduring tradition. It is a tradition that beckons us to “Be Bold: Think Higher.” To be bold impels us to step out of what is familiar, comfortable and expected and to do something new with the power (potential) to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our students particularly and ultimately, our world.
To be bold is an act of courage. Perhaps it is more common for individuals to be bold but institutions such as Siena Heights University must be bold as well. Being bold is not a careless act, but rather an act that is initiated because one cares so much. Siena Heights University is an institution that cares beyond reason and is made bold by its history and its distinct mission from its founding to this present day.
To think higher is more than a reference to an institution of higher education although it has that connotation. But to think higher means to set your sights on something more, something that has impact, something that calls us into a relationship with a God who elevates and transforms us as individuals as well as a community. To think higher is a spiritual experience which provides the lens through which all teaching and learning occurs. It is the intersection of faith and reason and the search for truth that solidifies and in turn, enhances our Catholic and Dominican identities.
When we combine the synergies of “Be Bold: Think Higher” we create a powerful environment where new vision and new dreams, based on the solid foundations of tradition and mission, have the potential to influence and change our world in both small and large ways.
Siena is blessed to stand on the shoulders of this Dominican tradition.
Our roots go back to the 12th century to a man named Dominic de Guzman.
St. Dominic was BOLD in his new approach to religious life as he left the monastery, that which was very comfortable to him, to preach against heresy. He thought higher as this was not the practice of his day to leave the monastery to preach. But it was this very action that created the beginning of the Dominican Order.
St. Catherine of Siena, a follower of Dominic after whom Siena Heights University is named, was a humble woman of prayer and service but a bold woman when it came to preaching to the Church the Word of God that it needed to hear. Her sights were set higher for she realized that unity within the church was of utmost importance.
St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639) whose feast day we celebrate today was a Dominican brother who overcame the hatred and prejudice shown to him as a mulatto and boldly served the poor and sick of Lima, Peru. He thought higher setting true charity as the virtue against which all else was measured.
Mother Camilla Madden, the Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters when the Congregation founded Siena Heights University, was a bold woman when she envisioned St. Joseph College (later to become Siena Heights) in the orchard next door to the original academy. It must be noted that the man next door did not want to sell the property because the girls from the Academy pilfered fruit from his orchard on a regular basis. But Mother Camilla had her sights set higher and took the bold step of having a third party purchase the land next door. Wasn’t she a woman ahead of her time!
The Adrian Dominican Sisters, the sponsors of Siena Heights University, have been faithful to their Dominican heritage and preach a bold message when they commit themselves to: seek truth, make peace, reverence life.
Siena Heights University inherits a bold tradition and we must respond to our mission and vision with contemplative boldness in a world starving for the message of truth.
Catholic colleges and universities have inherited and have perpetuated the Catholic intellectual tradition for centuries. We have been blessed with the confluence of faith and reason and all that comes from that vital linkage. Siena is positioned by its heritage to be bold in its response to what Catholic Higher Education means in our world today. I would like to enumerate some of these challenges and how we can boldly respond.
Our society and culture are changing rapidly. This is highly influenced by demographic changes in the United States but also by our world getting much smaller – through technology, economics, eco-systems, etc. How are our students prepared for this? We have an obligation to develop our students to be globally literate, to foster the realization that our connectivity with the entire universe is much more important than the differences that separate us and extinguish life.
Siena must open its doors more fully and intentionally plan to break out of its provincialism and welcome the world at our doors and be bold enough to step into the world of others. In some cases, it will mean welcoming more international students, establishing more programs or internships where our students can go and learn from other cultures and broaden their perspectives, and in still yet another case, it will mean online education with people from different parts of the world. With distance education, we are constantly challenged to learn new ways to create community and innovative ways to ensure that we continue to be mission-driven.
New programs will be developed that will embody our mission, respond to the needs of our surrounding and extended communities and serve our students well in their future professions. My hope is that we initiate programs in the health care area that will assist in the growth of Siena. We will develop collaborative relationships with others in this venture, partnering to create a strong sense of interdependence in our proximate community.
Other potential areas of study will be explored and, in time, developed that build on the present strengths of our existing majors and areas of concentration. The liberal arts will always be valued. I can assure you of this: The future of SHU will be built upon quality academic programs with an ethical component that calls our students to responsible citizenship. Our students will realize that they have a purpose in this life that is based on a relationship with God by whatever name they call God. They will have a true understanding that all life is relational and that whatever they do affects all life systems including their brothers and their sisters. Our students will be competent not only in the skills and knowledge of their own professions but they will believe in themselves enough to realize that they have something important to contribute to society. This is our mission, this is what distinguishes us, this is Siena Heights University!
This mission will be realized because our students have intentionally committed themselves to live out this mission in all aspects of their daily lives. This mission will be realized because we have a committed faculty who are willing to go beyond the required expectations and enter into the lives of our students in meaningful ways. Faculty expertise, commitment and dedication will attract other highly qualified faculty because they will see what a difference our faculty make in the lives of our students. This mission will be realized because we have a professional staff who reach out to students, assist them in whatever ways they can and provide programs that enhance their physical, emotional and spiritual development. The mission will be realized because we have an administration who prays together, works together as a team in a collaborative style of leadership, and who gather the best information available to make good decisions. This mission will be realized because we have a Board of Trustees who can see the big picture, who offer their expertise from many different areas and who contribute resources of many different kinds to improve the university in various ways. The mission will be realized because we have alumni and benefactors who are loyal ambassadors and investors in the future of Siena. And most importantly, the mission will be realized because all of these vital groups of the university function as one community bound together by the vision and the values on which this university was founded.
Dominican higher education must embody a reflective spirit at all levels: students, faculty, staff, administration, board members and alumni. St. Dominic didn’t pass on to his followers many words, but he did say, “Give to others the fruit of your contemplation.” In our busy world where we run from one thing to another for many different reasons, the Dominican academy must be a haven where reflection is expected and valued. This is important both inside and outside the classroom. Being reflective means to study, to question, to ponder, and to pray so that the truth that surfaces becomes a bold, solid truth. We must boldly and respectfully question why things are the way they are and think higher in order to discover the plethora of possibilities that exist to make positive changes within the academy that effect positive change in our world.
By looking for new ways for students to seek truth, knowledge and experience we honor our Dominican tradition by boldly engaging in new ventures just as Dominic did when he left the monastery. And, just as Dominic found challenges along the way, so will we. But, I also know even from my short time with this learning community that we will all be bold enough to face our challenges, learn from them and be transformed by them. But, we must also remember that in Dominic’s boldness he also received many blessings and, I know and believe, that the same God who watches over this university’s journey will afford us no less.
Thank you, and God bless us all!