Community Update: July 26, 2017

President Williams writes to the Muhlenberg community

 Wednesday, July 26, 2017 07:45 AM

The summer is progressing all too rapidly, and we will be welcoming our full complement of students back to campus in little over a month now.  It seems just a few weeks ago that, in the short space of 26 days, we bade farewell to the Class of 2017 and welcomed the Class of 2021 to campus for June Advising. Both classes face a time of critical transition, but I am confident that our graduating seniors have acquired the tools they need with the guidance of our faculty and staff to make their way into the world; that same dedicated faculty and staff will be ready to begin the same journey with the entering freshmen class.

The past year has been momentous for many reasons. Hundreds of members of the community engaged in planning that culminated in the College’s newest Strategic Plan, “Muhlenberg Opens Doors.”  This plan will guide the College as we make choices designed to strengthen our value and distinction by investing to develop greater academic excellence, to increase the vibrancy of the student experience, to foster and enrich our diverse and inclusive community, and to celebrate the powerful outcomes we help our students achieve. Moreover, in conjunction with this plan, we have developed a communications strategy that will advance Muhlenberg College as an institution whose mission of intellectual pursuit is positioned within a supportive community of scholars and professionals. (The plan will be available to members of the Muhlenberg network on a secure website, for which you will receive separate instructions soon if you don’t have them already.)

Our faculty adopted a bold new curricular initiative in integrative learning and approved a new certificate program in data analytics to be offered by the Wescoe School. Muhlenberg faculty are not only outstanding teachers, they are also distinguished scholars in their respective fields, publishing books and articles as well as presenting at national and international conferences.

Highlights of recent external research grants awarded to Muhlenberg faculty include:

  • The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation reaffirmed their investment in Muhlenberg College through a $600,000 three-year grant to advance the liberal arts, interdisciplinary learning and faculty-student collaborative scholarship. This contribution will build upon and reinforce our commitment to integrated learning, with a specific focus towards research and pedagogy in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.
  • Dr. Will Gryc, Associate Professor of Mathematics, and Dr. Byungchul Cha, Associate Professor of Mathematics, received a Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics grant to support two research groups, one for students interested in analysis and probability, and one for those interested in algebra and number theory.
  • Dr. Erika Iyengar, Associate Professor of Biology, received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to provide research opportunities to urban high school students.
  • Dr. Gene Fiorini, Truman Koehler Professor of Mathematics, and Dr. Byungchul Cha, Associate Professor of Mathematics, received a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant to prepare students to become the next generation of mathematical scientists efficient in researching sequences and their applications through the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences database.
  • Dr. Bruce Wightman, Professor of Biology, received a National Institutes of Health Academic Research Enhancement Award for his ongoing research in Transcription Regulation of Cell Differentiation in C. elegans by Tailless, which helps researchers better understand the molecular pathways that allow cells to communicate with each other to create tissues and organs during animal development.
  • Dr. Brett Fadem, Associate Professor of Physics, received a grant from the National Science Foundation for a three-year combined program of research in ultra-relativistic heavy ion collisions at the renowned Brookhaven National Laboratory.
  • Dr. Erika Iyengar, Associate Professor of Biology, Dr. Paul Meier, Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. Mary Byrne, Lecturer in Biology, received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support a five-year program titled, “Scholars in Math and Science: A Program to Improve Recruitment and Retention of Students in the Biological Sciences.”

We announced new academic partnerships this year with American University, Boston University, Lehigh University, Penn State (Hershey) and, most recently, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. These partnerships will supplement existing pathways for our students to move forward in a number of professional directions, including management, public health, music, theatre and dance.  We also became the only undergraduate college in the U.S. to partner with Harvard Law School to offer a course in copyright law to our students on our campus.  In our commitment to help students achieve powerful outcomes, we are working on additional partnerships that we will announce in the coming months.

We also launched and have ramped up membership at a rate exceeding our expectations.  We will end this academic year with over 1,700 registered members, far exceeding our goal of 1,000 members for this first year.  This new digital platform for our global network enables alumni and parents, located throughout the world, to connect with one another as well as with students, faculty and staff, extending the reach and possibility of Muhlenberg’s professional network.  In particular, it enables our students to benefit from the eagerness of alumni and parents to offer internships, job shadowing and mentoring. 

Here are just a few examples: 

  • Michael Hamelton '00 posted: “Hello everyone! I am a graduate of the class of 2000. Head of Sales at Adelfi Promotions located in West Chester PA. We are a promotional marketing company that helps companies and small businesses "brand" their name through promotional products and apparel. Eager to help anyone out [there] looking for help in the marketing arena!” 
  • Tracy Richards '80, P'21 posted: “Hello! I am a graduate and now a parent of a new Muhlenberg student. I am a tenured project leader in the financial services industry, and an available resource for mentoring or creating connections.” 
  • Sarah Efronson ’07 posted: “Hello, I graduated in 2007 and went to work for Teach for America for three years before attending law school. I am currently an associate at Jones Day in the firm's securities enforcement and litigation group. I'm happy to speak to students or alums considering TFA or law school or next steps post-law school.”

We saw the retirements of two members of senior staff, the appointment of a new Provost and the announcement of a new Vice President for Enrollment Management. While it may be difficult for some of us to imagine a Muhlenberg without Mike Bruckner, Vice President of External Affairs and Community Relations, or Chris Hooker-Haring, Vice President for Enrollment Management, we are excited to welcome Robert Springall as our new VPEM and look forward to the wisdom and experience he brings to our admissions, financial aid and retention efforts. We are thrilled that, following a year as our Interim Provost, Dr. Kathy Harring, Professor of Psychology and formerly Vice President and Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning, has agreed to serve as the College’s 3rd Provost.

Our students excelled this year in and out of the classroom – 91 students received awards or scholarships at the College’s Honors Convocation on April 30. Recent graduate Mel Ferrara ’15 received a National Science Foundation grant, Devin Domeyer ’18 received a Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Scholarship and Glenna Jones ’19 received a St. Andrews Society grant for study in Scotland next year, and eight other students were finalists, semi-finalists, or received honorable mentions as part of our Prestigious Awards Initiative. Nearly 90 students attended scholarly conferences this year along with faculty.  In addition, of the 173 student athletes who were awarded sports honors during the year, 125 (or 72%) received academic honors – Centennial Conference Honor Roll, Academic All-District, etc.  We can even boast an Academic All-American this year, Elizabeth Garrison, who not only received the honor for a second time, but who also served as the Class of 2017 Valedictorian, graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, was captain of the Volleyball Team and was named Centennial Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year. More broadly, our student-athletes achieve in the classroom as well as on the playing fields, as at least one member of each of our 22 sports was elected to the Centennial Conference Honor Roll in their sport.

We added tremendously to our technology infrastructure this year. We converted to Canvas as our learning management system and to Google’s G Suite for email.  We implemented a new phone system for the campus. We also selected and have begun the implementation of Workday, one of the most powerful enterprise resource planning systems available for colleges today. Workday will soon support our administrative and academic functions in a highly-integrated way.

We have strengthened our safety, health and wellness resources as well this year, and will start the new academic year off with a new configuration of resources that will enable us to support our students' needs outside the classroom more effectively.

Our new Commencement Weekend format, with interactive talks by our honorary degree recipients, allowed our community to listen and engage with thought leaders in journalism, astrophysics, genetics and the performing arts. That the senior class selected a female classmate from Afghanistan as their speaker speaks volumes about Muhlenberg today and the progress we continue to make in the area of inclusion. When Mahsheed Mahjor ’17 completed her remarks, Judy Woodruff, our Commencement speaker, whispered to me, “that was the best student commencement speech I have ever heard.” Woodruff followed up by including excerpts from Mahsheed’s speech on the following day’s PBS NewsHour broadcast.

The campus is a busy place this summer; aside from hundreds of summer school students studying on campus, over 60 students are engaging in summer research with members of our faculty and over 70 students are working with our faculty and professional guest artists in the Summer Music Theatre program.  The Provost Office awarded 25 summer research grants to faculty members, along with nine course development grants, and four awards to support the implementation of innovative pedagogy.  On June 9-10, over 100 alumnae attended the first Women’s Weekend, organized by Lauren Anderson ’79 and Sheryl LeBlanc Guss '81, P'10, P'13 to mark 60 years of co-education and featured workshops, performances, networking opportunities and a keynote address by Dr. Lucy Puryear '81.

The Class of 2021 will benefit from an expanded Orientation program that reflects more fully academic, personal and community outcomes for students. Orientation will be extended from three to four days and will include a component centered on an exploration of Downtown Allentown.

Our community has once again shown that our Muhlenberg student, faculty, staff and community represent a worthwhile investment. Support from our alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends grew by eight percent over the last fund year to close at $8,126,374. This includes a record $2,162,010 contributed to The Muhlenberg Fund, providing more resources than ever towards unrestricted use. Our alumni donors increased by more than nine percent, bucking trends at many other colleges and universities where alumni giving efforts struggled over the last year. Finally, The Muhlenberg Match program is a testament to the priorities of our community; over the last several years, we have raised nearly $11 million for financial aid and educational enrichment programs that can make a transformative liberal arts education possible for future generations of Muhlenberg students.

I am looking forward to the coming year, and I am excited for our College.  Muhlenberg has accomplished so much over the past 169 years, and we are building the College’s future on a firm foundation.  As we continue to move the College forward in the coming years, we will be making substantial progress on many fronts. Muhlenberg’s star continues to be on the rise, and I hope that you are and remain as proud of this institution as I am.




John I. Williams, Jr.