President Anne A. Skleder

State of the University address transcript from Dr. Anne Skleder, President

Apr 24, 2020
Anne A. Skleder

Editorʼs Note: This transcript has been lightly edited from a Zoom gathering for Brenau Universityʼs Alumni Reunion Weekend.

One of the things I hoped for this year is that we were going to have a lot of opportunities for students, alumni and alumnae to come together and learn from each other and get to know each other. So it might not be quite what we envisioned, but itʼs a step. Iʼm not going to take a lot of time with you all on doing what might be considered a formal State of the University. But Iʼm going to share with you some things and some thoughts.

I know itʼs odd. I know itʼs different. I know itʼs maybe not what you were looking for. But itʼs really good for all of us to be together. I think itʼs critically important that weʼre together as much as we possibly can be in as many ways as we can during this challenging time.

Iʼm going to start out by saying if I were coming to a State of the University address at my alma mater, I would ask, “Howʼs it going?” And in light of whatʼs going on, “How is Brenau doing?” I just want to be very clear. I said this the other day at one of our trustee meetings. Brenau is strong. Your alma mater is strong. And itʼs only become more clear to me over the past five or six weeks that this strength we had before, the strength weʼve had for 141 plus years, is going to create not only a surviving but a thriving university moving forward.

I want to say that things were chugging along really well in a bunch of areas, and Iʼm just going to name those, and then give you a couple of examples. So we were moving forward with our Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission accreditation, and we were getting ready to do a website and branding reboot. We were about to launch a strategic plan. Weʼre going to launch all of that as it is critically important from a planning standpoint, from a moving forward standpoint. Weʼre not going to take our foot off the pedal. We had to pause just a little bit, but weʼll move forward.

Secondly, I think itʼs important for you to know that I got to spend an incredible year listening and learning, and I see so many of you who I got to meet in this Zoom session. Iʼm exceedingly grateful that I was able to do that and then start to be able to turn this spring to some different kinds of events. Those might just have to wait a little bit, but they will happen. On campus, Iʼve been doing a lot of listening and learning birthday lunches every month, with faculty and staff. They are now Zoom lunches where everybody gets to make their own lunch and talk, but itʼs been working. So thatʼs something important.

I think you need to know that thereʼs academic innovation around every turn at Brenau. We are about to launch the Physicianʼs Assistant Studies program in January of 2021. I met with a huge open house group last night. Weʼve got all the clinical sites we need, and we’ve hired unbelievable faculty. Our provost, dean and director have hired credentialed and caring faculty. We have our whole facility ready to welcome them. All of that is lining up beautifully, but weʼre also doing other exciting things. For example, when I went to New York, I got to meet with the Executive Womenʼs MBA group, which is the first inaugural group and a fantastic group of women. I’m so grateful for the faculty for developing the program and the women who took that first plunge.

Weʼre rolling out a new entry-level Master of Science in Nursing. The GOLD Program is up and running. We had a fantastic initial GOLD speaker and a fantastic year of “G,” meaning gender, that is wrapping up. We will be starting very soon with that second “O,” meaning ownership, year. Weʼve also secured several important leadership roles. We have a dynamic duo of internal folks running nursing now before we launch an external search. Weʼve got a fantastic new theatre chair who comes from the Conservatory at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Thatʼs just a smattering of whatʼs going on academically.

I also want you to know that from an enrollment standpoint, we are doing much better than I would have expected despite the pandemic. Not only are we looking to bring students in, but we are looking to retain them. Dr. Jim Eck, our provost, has done a great job with leading. Dr. Amanda Lammers is on the call to lead a group from across the university to keep more students, to make sure that more students stay with us at Brenau, starting with The Womenʼs College and moving across the university.

I want you to know on the international front, not only are we continuing our China partnership, and we have just applied for a variation on that, but I also got to travel to Panama, which is our first country in our Latin American and Caribbean initiative, to meet with the head of the scholarship fund. I also met with the minister of education and the president of Panama. We are working on a proposal right now to bring students in for a five-year program through The Womenʼs College and the co-ed undergraduate college.

Last but not least, partnership progress. The two things I just mentioned are partnerships, but we also locally have expanded partnerships and added partnerships. For example, we are expanding our relationship with the Ivester Early College program and signed a memorandum with Hall County Schools to increase our participation. Andrea Birch, dean of the College of Fine Arts & Humanities, is helping to make sure that we have some of the best faculty on campus to teach those high school students who could then become not only college students somewhere but hopefully Brenau students.

We have enriched our relationship with the Quinlan Visual Arts Center, not only in providing scholarships and supporting the gala, but also in moving forward with some art projects across the city. We are also working on pathways with Lanier Technical College, which will help students who have two-year degrees finish with four-year degrees. We have partnered with the local private school, Lakeview Academy. We are swapping our theatre downtown that we do not use for part of the year for a new track and field that Lakeview is putting in. No exchange of money, but a great exchange of enrichment for both students. And again, another way we could be bringing students in. They have a new head of school, the first woman, coming this summer. In addition, we are working with Northeast Georgia Medical Center on some new programs that will help meet needs at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels.

I had the opportunity to make a connection with the vice president of Costa Rica, the second country in our Latin American initiative, and secured her willingness to come and be a speaker at commencement. Commencement will not be next week, but when it happens, she has promised to come. She is a fantastic leader, one of the only women leaders in Latin America and definitely of a high caliber.

Those are six areas that our team has been working on. I also want to share with you a landmark this year, that one of our wonderful Trustee Emerita Lessie Smithgall, who many of you may know about. Her birthday was on April 1, and she turned 109 years old. We were so grateful, and we gave a little gift so that her prized tennis team would be supported even a little bit more.

I want to stop and say that, that is all before we had our COVID situation. I just want you to know that nothing is stopping because of that. But I do want you to know that our team jumped onboard with our faculty, staff, trustees immediately with, “How are we going to make sure we do not interrupt our studentsʼ education? How do we make sure we stay safe? And how do we make sure we stay open?” Brenau is open for business. I am going to tell you that we missed one week of classes. We did not miss a beat. That is because we have an incredible faculty that was able to turn things around and a leadership team that supported them in doing that.

What we have been focused on this last five or six weeks is taking care of our community — making sure that we are safe, making sure that we are able to continue to learn and grow and function, and lower everybodyʼs risk for the virus. That is number one. And that is the absolute most important possible thing that we could do. It is the bedrock of everything. The second thing we needed to do was to assess the impact. What might this do for our institution? What challenges will it bring? What opportunities might it bring?

I just want to give you two examples of blunting the force of the impact. Number one, the provost, the retention team and the leadership team jumped forward and said, “Weʼre not going to let students move out on March 13 from The Womenʼs College until we get as many of those students registered as possible.” I could not have been prouder to walk through the Trustee Library and see faculty and staff working with students to get them registered. They also let students know we were going to miss them, got them their financial aid paperwork completed, and even gave them stuffed animals which said, “We miss you already.” That was due to Dr. Lammers and her shop.

Second example is that we decided as students were depositing for fall, we would post their signing days. We would also give them an opportunity to take classes this summer online because we went completely online. Students can now take up to 12 credits before they start in the fall at an extremely reduced rate. That way they can get a jumpstart, they can start being connected with Brenau, and they can possibly free up some time in the future to study abroad, do an internship or some other enrichment opportunity.

I want to let you know that we are taking care of students still on campus. The Student Services team has been working with them and it works down to about 24 students. Those students are largely our students from China, but there are few others. They’re being taken care of very well.

I want you to also know that I think weʼre writing the book on how to stay engaged, despite the fact that we are socially distancing, that you have to get permission to come on to one of our campuses and that we are largely all working from home. I am amazed there is a Facebook for the Tea Room that the faculty and staff are on. We have Zoom meetings just to talk that have nothing to do with agendas. Our folks are taking care of each other. Your alma mater is taking care of each other. I want you to know that and I would want to know that if I were you.

The last thing I want to mention is that weʼre going to get through this. I thought about President H.J. Pearce and what was happening at the time he took over. Then I was thinking about 142 years. Let me just rattle off some things that have happened: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnamese War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the economic downturns in 1990 and 2008, major weather events, challenging enrollment situations, changing needs of society and demographics. Those are just a smattering.

In my 30 years of higher education, Iʼve weathered some storms. So while the situation is indeed unprecedented, your alma mater will thrive. I just want to tell you a couple of reasons why. Number one, weʼre solid financially. Weʼre not rich, weʼre not going to anytime soon be able to do everything we want to do all at the same time, but we are financially solid. We have many types of student segments so that if one is challenged, we have others. So the whole time that we switched to an online format for our on-campuses, we already had online students, essentially attending in an uninterrupted way. I am fortunate that my predecessors and the faculty and staff that have gone before have developed that. We have skill with online learning, flipping classrooms, with different ways of learning and teaching. We are going to be challenged in higher education to continually find new ways to ensure that students learn through innovative teaching methods. We have the skill, the know-how and the commitment to do that.

We have programs that are in demand. We have programs that are needed by society, wanted by students, and at the heart, have the critical-thinking skills. And you need only to look around to know how badly in society we need critical thinking skills.

Lastly, we have the most committed group of faculty, staff, alumnae, alumni, trustees and members of the communities in which our campuses reside, that really care about Brenau and help Brenau. Those are a few of the reasons why I am confident that we will thrive. It will be a challenge. It will not be easy for any institution. The wealthiest, the most established to the new — we will all be challenged. I firmly believe we are going to come out on the other side even stronger than we were going in.

I am going to look for your help and your support all the way through that.