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Hearing the Sounds of Mary Baldwin College’s Future

2004 Homecoming Address by President Pamela Fox

Good morning. Thank you for coming. I want to share some thoughts with you about Mary Baldwin’s future. We are looking 10 years ahead to our future with great optimism.

As you know, we have spent the year in conversation about the purposeful composition of our future. Your voices joined the conversation. Thank you. Though dissonance was heard and respected, clear themes of harmonious consensus emerged. Together, we reaffirmed our values and core strengths and explored potential new opportunities through Mary Baldwin’s trademark of innovative tradition.

From this dialogue we have fused our timely and timeless mission with our entrepreneurial spirit to determine how we can further distinguish Mary Baldwin College. In close collaboration with the Board of Trustees, we have completed the final draft of a ten-year strategic plan. It is titled Mary Baldwin College 2014: Composing Our Future .

From this chorus of voices, a vision emerged that champions the common ground of tradition and innovation.

Our vision is:

Mary Baldwin College will be nationally recognized as a leader in providing personalized, transforming liberal education.

According to this vision, Mary Baldwin College will be nationally recognized as a model institution because of its distinctive, signature programs and experiences offered by a learning community that provides personalized, transforming, liberal education as a foundation for lifelong learning, global citizenship, and the holistic integration of mind, body, and character.

This vision unites all of our programs within an all-college identity. Yes, we are proud of our unique programs:

Nowhere else is there a program like the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, the only all-female cadet corps in the world; there is no other program enabling gifted young women to succeed in college as early as age 13; there is no program like the Master of Letters/Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance in partnership with American Shakespeare Center, the company that dared to build the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse; there is no Master of Arts in Teaching program like ours, grounded in the liberal arts with inquiry-based faculty and practicing teachers in every classroom; and for over 25 years our Adult Degree Program has set the standard in offering personalized opportunity to pursue a baccalaureate degree meeting individual personal, professional, and educational needs.

Our on-campus program for women has many distinctive features — more than 250 leadership opportunities in student government and organizations, excellent academic majors taught by distinguished faculty, the lifelong vitality of sisterhood and support, the honor and judicial systems, and the richest and broadest range of diversity of almost any institution in the country.

Yet, these signature programs all share Mary Baldwin’s dedication to liberal education, to personalized transforming liberal education, and the cultivation of the whole person. We are one family sharing our historic mission and our new vision.

In order to realize this vision, our strategic plan details five strategic initiatives and many goals. The initiatives are connected to one another as building blocks. As a foundation of our strategic plan, it is imperative that we Fund Our Future and Renew Our Environment for teaching and learning by maintaining and enhancing our facilities and landscape. At the heart of what we hope to achieve, we must Unite and Enrich Our Community . Finally, as essential components that point the way to our future, we must Sharpen Our Focus on Academic Excellence , and as a crowning achievement, Make Personal Transformation Our Priority .

Today I want to speak with you about our place in higher education in the United States. I want to share with you why we are confident that now is the time for the voice of Mary Baldwin to be prominently heard within the dialogue of higher education in the United States.

In other words, I want to explain why our vision can and will be achieved, the vision that Mary Baldwin College will be nationally recognized.

Our quest for national and international recognition is not only a matter of strategic communication. This is certainly part of it. We cannot hide our light under a bushel. We must be present at all national meetings, participating, displaying our college identity, and publishing in all appropriate national venues for higher education. We must also ensure that our recruiting networks reach across the nation, and I thank many of you for volunteering to help with recruiting in your home areas. We must ensure that our international linkages and a multilingual Web presence connects Mary Baldwin to the world.

We will achieve our vision of national recognition for this reason: Mary Baldwin College has its finger on the pulse of cutting-edge philosophies in higher education. But we must be purposeful and united through the creative innovations that emerge from the strategic plan in order to orchestrate Mary Baldwin as a distinct voice, with a unique timbre. We have a window of opportunity, at this critical time, to intentionally step up to national leadership.

Why are we on the cutting edge of national movements in higher education? I would like to explicate this by focusing on the key words in the vision statement. Remember the vision is: MBC will be nationally recognized as a leader in providing personalized, transforming liberal education .

Let me begin with our historic commitment to liberal education.

Traditional liberal arts colleges continue to face questions of relevance when many students choose professional, job-oriented programs instead of a liberal education. Only 4 percent of college and university students attend liberal arts colleges. Liberal education is sometimes despised. Many analysts and policy leaders bemoan the fact that markets are keyed to short-term outcomes and have no patience for forms of learning that pay off over a lifetime. First generation, low-income, and adult learners in particular, such observers contend, need job training rather than intellectual development.

Liberal education has assumed many forms across history. Here at Mary Baldwin, from our founding, we have always been concerned with important educational aims: cultivating intellectual and ethical judgment, helping students comprehend and negotiate their relationships in the larger world, and preparing graduates for lives of civic responsibility and leadership. So why shouldn’t we expect that liberal education would be the uncontested preference of virtually everyone who goes to college?

Fortunately, the leadership of higher education in the United States is offering a voice and a force to reinforce this vital message: Liberal education is indeed the most practical and necessary form of education for our entire nation of college-bound students. The American Association of Colleges and Universities, founded in 1915, now featuring more than 900 members, is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of higher education. I have been involved since its beginnings in their new initiative titled Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning As A Nation Goes to College.

Released in October 2002, this report of the Greater Expectations national panel calls for a new focus on excellence to better prepare students for the twenty-first century.

Greater Expectations reminds us that liberal education is not “liberal” in any political sense, but that a liberal education opens and liberates or frees the mind from ignorance. Liberal education has the capacity to develop mental agility, promote deep understanding of the world’s variety, and foster ethical action in the service of the individual and society. As they participate in a knowledge-based economy, students need to be nimble thinkers and creative problem solvers, and they desire an ethical grounding and empathy for others that will keep them centered in turbulent times. Hence a practical liberal education for the 21st century.

Greater Expectations reminds us that liberal education is an educational philosophy rather than a body of knowledge, specific courses, or a type of institution. A student can prepare for a profession in a mind-expanding manner. A liberal education teaches capabilities, through general education requirements and a strong academic major. We know that at Mary Baldwin. You have experienced this here. You know that we live the liberal arts.

In order to promote a practical liberal education for the 21st century, I focus on the other two key words in our vision now: personalized and transforming. This is our national voice — personalized, transforming liberal education.

Clearly learning depends on how individuals connect and reflect — their liberal education must be rooted in personal learning style, personal frames of reference, personalized pathways and plans, and personal encouragement. What personalized transforming liberal education requires is integration: a holistic approach to develop learning over time, creating a path for connecting experiences and creating self-authorship, or the Socratic principle of an examined life.

Personalized, transforming learning is greater than the sum of its parts. This is integrative learning.

Many college catalogues espouse such a goal — offering powerful promises about students’ intellectual and personal development as thinkers and citizens. But integrative learning does not just happen. Institutions must be committed and creative in making this happen.

There are several prominent national programmatic and pedagogical trends that offer pathways to integrative learning. The U.S. News & World Report 2004 edition of America’s Best Colleges has a center section titled Choosing A School: Programs to Look For. It identifies eight programs that have been shown to enhance learning. They are internships, senior capstones, first-year experiences, undergraduate research, learning communities, study abroad, service learning, and writing in the disciplines.

Colleges and universities are listed under each. However, there is no single institution listed in all categories, though Duke University and Elon University appear in several.

All colleges and universities are paying attention to this imperative. The cover page of the Chronicle of Higher Education, on May 7, 2004, states: “Harvard ponders its deficiencies, with the first review of the university’s undergraduate curriculum in 26 years.” What are they considering? These very issues of a 21st century liberal education and integrative learning strategies.

In our strategic plan final draft, we have proposed a comprehensive scaffold of progressive structured experiences for all Mary Baldwin programs — based on the cutting edge of national pedagogies — to ensure personalized, transforming liberal education.

These proposed ten progressive experiences, both curricular and co-curricular, will characterize “the Mary Baldwin College difference.”

•  A threshold experience will create threshold or gateway experiences for all students that include orientation to the college, exposure to its history and traditions, and the development of community. This will focus particularly on the first year experience for traditional students.

•  Each student will develop a personalized learning plan and portfolio , planning academic and enriching co-curricular experiences, intentionally making purposeful choices and connections within the reflective electronic learning portfolio.

•  Each student will have a personalized wellness and fitness plan .

•  A network of mentors and partners will support students, including peer mentors, faculty and staff, and alumnae/alumni mentors.

•  Each student will participate in active learning communities , such as courses in common or themed residence halls.

•  We will certainly offer for each student a distinctive academic major or interdisciplinary focus .

•  Practical and experiential learning will connect theory with practice through community service learning and internships.

•  We aspire to provide international and multicultural experiences , offering at low or no cost an international experience to all students either during May term or through a rich network of university exchanges for a semester or academic year.

•  A capstone experience will provide a culminating, synthesizing undergraduate research experience.

•  Finally, we will enrich our Life and Career Transition Program .

This unique set of 10 experiences combines new and aspirational opportunities with strengths that the college has already demonstrated in its current programs. “The Mary Baldwin College difference” would thus ensure that the institution remains a vibrant learning community without walls, connecting life both in and out of the classroom, and creating a gateway to lifelong learning. This is our national melody — our prominent voice in the national composition of a revitalized liberal education for the 21st century.

As some of you heard in my inaugural speech, I reaffirmed our commitment to empowering education for women: a brave agenda of equal opportunity in 1842, in 2004 not only equal but every opportunity for women, and our recognition that the imperative of women’s education and leadership is the great unfinished global agenda in the 21st century.

Personalized transforming liberal education addresses this unfinished agenda. Mary Baldwin continues to develop leadership qualities for women. We are reminded that women’s leadership is still critically needed. Of 180 countries, only 13 are led by women. There have been 12,000 elected members of the United States Congress, and only 215 have been women. Five states have never sent a woman to Congress. There are only eight women governors, and that’s an all-time high. No woman of color has ever been the governor of a U.S. state.

So we will achieve our national vision, and most important, we will provide unique pathways to personalized, transforming education. I close with a statement by Miss Mary Lyon, the founder of Mount Holyoke College. This could well have been Mary Julia Baldwin speaking. Miss Lyon said she wanted to produce hard marble women, not soft marble women. Soft marble was easy to shape but quickly crumbled before the forces of the elements. Hard marble was more difficult to shape, but it could take a brilliant polish that would last and was impervious to wind and weather. The luster and imperviousness to external circumstances are dynamic images for women’s self-directing will. Hard marble women.

I ask for your help and support as we hear the sounds of Mary Baldwin College’s future. I will continue to seek your expertise as we share the evolving details of our plan.

Personalized, transforming liberal education. Women’s education: the great unfinished global agenda of the 21st century.

The Mary Baldwin College difference. A college like no other.

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