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Dreaming at the Woods

Onyx Online | 06.12.2019
Strategic planning faculty session graphic recording
Julia Reich of Stone Soup Creative provided graphic recordings of the focus sessions. Once each session had been completed, the sheets were hung up in the hallway of Hulman Hall for all groups to review and compare ideas and dreams of each other. This recording is from the faculty session.

By Karen Dyer

“For many years, the College did not dream. We need to dream again,” said Dottie L. King, Ph.D., president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, to the faculty, staff and students during focus sessions this spring to identify a vision for the future. “This is a time in our history when all things are possible. We need to put everything on the table and consider our best path, carrying a mission forward that Saint Mother Theodore began 180 years ago.”

Dreaming is just what the SMWC community has been doing throughout most of the 2018 – 2019 year to generate ideas, create new pathways for success and capture a vision for the future of the College. A series of dream and focus sessions have been held with various constituents including those already mentioned as well as trustees and the Alumni Association Board of Directors. Data from these sessions will be used to help create the next phase of the strategic plan, which is to be named Aspire Even Higher.

Sherry Schnake, Ph.D., professor of psychology and co-chair of the facilities and IT sub-committee of the strategic plan said of the planning process, “It was energizing to spend time with colleagues generating ideas and listening to one another’s perspectives on how we should prioritize the objectives of the new plan in order to positively influence the direction the College takes in the future.

“Including the SMWC faculty into the early stages of the strategic planning process allows The Woods to draw upon the expertise of the faculty in their respective fields as well as the lessons we have learned on how best to serve our students during both times of austerity and more recent times of relative abundance.”

A list of 400+ dreams have been generated, and from this there are some ideas that might be a bit out there, however there is much that if brought
to fruition could launch SMWC into a new era.

An athletic fields complex expansion, a new academic building, expansion of the health science and information technology majors, a second residence hall, increased diversity and 600 campus students by 2025 are all on the list for consideration.

“Allowing students to participate in this process from the very beginning sets a clear message that the administration cares about the thoughts, concerns and ideas that students have about the future direction of our beloved College,” noted Nathan Stroup, senior humanities major from Howe, Indiana. “I am even more thrilled to see what future developments and improvements that will be coming to The Woods in the years to come. I believe that with continued conversations between alumni, students, faculty, staff and administrators of the College, we will be able to continue having a strong comprehensive strategic plan that continues our growth!”

The goal of the first phase of the strategic plan was to strengthen the institution across all areas and build a foundation for future growth.

“What is clear is that everyone is excited about the possibilities of growth,” said King. “The students are already talking about the ‘next Le Fer Hall’ as we near capacity in the current residence building. Our dialogues are less about fixing deteriorating buildings and more about positioning the College for innovation, vision and excellence in education.”

The Aspire Higher Strategic Plan, through the leadership of a 35-member steering committee, has brought significant and sustained growth to the institution since its inception in 2015. With the addition of a nursing program and a mission shift to enroll women and men in all programs in 2015, the College saw an immediate lift in its enrollment.

The College leadership, with input from faculty, staff, students and alumni, have continued to push for growth in academics, athletics, fundraising and enrollment. Such moves as adding an all-online modality for the Master’s of Leadership Development (MLD) program is just one way the College is looking to attract more students.

“As a new employee, it felt wonderful to be a part of the strategic planning brainstorming meeting,” said Jess Bicknell, SMWC’s digital marketing manager. “Being included from day one made me feel valued and more connected to and invested in the institution.

“As a current MLD student, being involved with the brainstorming process was eye-opening. As a distance learner, my cohort comes to campus once every eight weeks. It was refreshing to see that the institution cares about grad students, even when they don’t see us day-to-day like traditional campus students.”

The Executive Leadership team, in tandem with the steering committee, are providing a framework for the dreams and focus session data which will be centered on pillars of academics, environment and outreach with threads of enrollment growth, spirituality and innovation.

“This was a unique experience that allowed my voice to genuinely be heard by the College. It was neat to hear the positive comments made, gather a unique perspective and contribute ideas that are going to generate change,” said Emma Taylor, a sophomore elementary education major from Greencastle, Indiana. “Our College is growing and with that we must be proactive. Students are aware of our needs, and I truly appreciated the opportunity to have voice.”

The Aspire Even Higher Plan will officially launch on Oct. 25 at the President’s Gala.

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