State of the College Address

By President Mary Dana Hinton

Mary HintonThank you. I have been impressed by the warm welcome I've received every time I've been here on campus. And after my first few visits here this winter, I think I understand. The warm welcomes here makes you believe it's always sunny & 75 degrees! My family and I have been very grateful for the kindness and hospitality we've received from the entire Saint Ben's community.

I consider myself blessed to be here and fortunate to be coming in on the heels of a strong president like Dr. MaryAnn Baenninger. I owe her a great debt of gratitude and I am grateful to inherit her legacy. In her 10 years here, she helped CSB accomplish great things and built a remarkable sense of momentum for the future.

 

This proud and inspring college that you all have created is...

• a tier 1, top 100 liberal arts college.

• a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

• one of the nation's top-ranked colleges for women.

• the nation's only Benedictine college for women.

• an awarded national leader in both community service and campus internationalization.

I am honored to join the Saint Ben's community at this critical juncture at the beginning of its second century of educating women. And, I'm extremely excited about this weekend and the chance to get to know as many of you as I can. I want to hear your stories, feel your connections and learn more about the many things that make this place so special.

When the Sisters of Saint Benedict began considering a college, they started with three fundamentals that were destined to combine in ways that make this an extraordinary and wonderful place.

First, they decided to open a college for women. In 1913, this was a bold and courageous idea. The founding Sisters did not just envision a college. They envisioned and established a legacy of learning that would afford countless opportunities for generations of women.

It was still seven years before the 19th Amendment would be adopted, but women across Minnesota were increasingly engaged in the suffrage movement. They were hungry for education and they were pushing at the boundaries that constrained them.

So when the Sisters brought forth this proud new college in central Minnesota, they were truly lighting a lamp that would not be hidden under a bushel. They knew the importance of education - for themselves, for their families, for society - and they believed that educated women were essential to creating positive change in the world.

Second, the Sisters were opening a college based on Benedictine teachings and values. And to this day, the prayerful presence of the monastic community here at the College of Saint Benedict provides a stable sense of home for which the college is so well known. The Rule of Saint Benedict encourages love of God, neighbor and self, the art of listening, worship and balanced, humane living. And it is seen and heard, nurtured and grown throughout this community of faculty, staff, students, alumnae and parents.

Each of you brings this Benedictine way of learning and living out into the world - into boardrooms, classrooms and living rooms - and the world is better for it.

Lastly, and just as importantly, when the Sisters opened this college, they were determined to build a course of study founded in the liberal arts. In 1913, this wasn't a finishing school for girls. There was vigorous coursework in mathematics, physics, chemistry, education and psychology. It was a growing school, teaching women to think, and to speak, and to challenge the status quo. From the very start, this has been a liberal arts college, proudly and confidently so.

By 1962 that commitment to the liberal arts was defined clearly in the course catalog where it said:

"The College of Saint Benedict is primarily a liberal arts college. It places major emphasis on those branches of learning which discipline the mind and which give the richest and most complete view of truth. Its chief aim, therefore, is to help students know the best that science, literature, and the arts have to offer and to help them integrate this knowledge around the core of their faith."

Those three fundamentals: a college for women - steeped in Benedictine values - educating in the liberal arts tradition. Those are what make Saint Ben's stand out as an exceptional institution. Today we are the nation's only Benedictine college for women. And today the liberal arts are more important than ever.

With the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, the most important thing we can teach our students is how to keep learning. Eighty percent of employers think every student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts. The class of 2018 will arrive here on campus in a few weeks and many of the jobs they'll be competing for when they graduate don't even exist yet.

Employers of today - and tomorrow - want to know: Can you think creatively? Can you solve problems? Can you write and communicate? You, and the rest of the alumnae of the College of Saint Benedict, have been demonstrating these abilities for 100 years.

So let me take the next few minutes to talk about four things we're doing right as we provide a strong liberal arts education here at Saint Ben's.

Number one. Opportunities require students to develop and take the initiative. Saint Ben's attracts and recruits young women with passion, ambition and motivation. As alumnae, many of you generously give to support scholarships here at Saint Ben's. We take it as our solemn responsibility to find students who are worthy of your support and who can generate genuine return on your investment.

In the fall of 2013, 89 percent of CSB students from the 2012 incoming class returned. That's a remarkable retention rate. And just as remarkable are our completion rates. The four-year rate for the Saint Ben's and Saint John's classes that arrived here in 2009 was 73 percent. The average among Minnesota private colleges was 63 percent - and that is relatively high. When students get here, they stay. And when they stay, they graduate. In four years.

Number two. The liberal arts are not incompatible with but, instead, are essential for, professional preparation, making mute the current conversation about either/or and demonstrating a posture of both/and with regard to the liberal arts and professional preparation.

Nobel laureate Thomas Cech put it nicely when he said, "Just as mathematics is considered to be a good exercise for the brain even for those who will never use calculus in the future, so the study of great books, history, languages, music, and many other non-science fields is likely to hone a scientist's ability to perceive and interpret the natural world."

Intense scholarship and academic programs like FoCus and MapCores lead the way here at Saint Ben's toward preparing more young women for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. By developing these programs, we're addressing industry needs by increasing the number of scientists and mathematicians we produce. And the scientists and mathematicians we produce are Bennies. Thoughtful, well-rounded, reflective, broadly intelligent Bennies.

At the same time, even professional courses of study here - like accounting, education and nursing - reap the rich benefits of Saint Ben's Benedictine culture and liberal arts curriculum. The results are that our graduates in these fields pass their respective professional exams at exemplary levels and are highly sought out by employers in those fields.

Number three. Experience matters. No one wants theoretical workers in their practical workplace. And at Saint Ben's, our students understand that. All of our graduates will complete an experiential learning component. They'll take the strong pedagogy they receive in the classroom and put it into practice in authentic situations. In addition, over 60 percent of Saint Ben's students will study abroad.

By studying abroad or taking part in practica and internships, students gain real-life experience. They interact with people from different cultures, different circumstances, different environments. They place themselves in situations that force them to adapt. In that process they internalize the lessons they've been learning and they expose themselves to some of the lessons they have yet to learn.

Number four. No one is in this alone. To paraphrase, it takes a campus to raise a scholar. At Saint Ben's, it's not just students working with faculty. We all have crucial roles to play in the making of a Bennie. Advisors. Administrators. Benedictine friends. Staff. Parents. And you - our alumnae. Through networking and interaction - through the stories you tell, the gifts you give and the relationships you maintain, you have the power to inspire and aid this next generation of Saint Ben's students.

You, the alumnae of Saint Ben's, have accepted the torch from the Sisters, honoring the college's first 100 years and promising to keep the legacy of Saint Ben's alive for the second century. As "Sisters for the second century," you are essential to our continued success.

At this important threshold in time, we have to ask, "Who are we?" and "Who do we want to become?" We are starting from a position of strength, where the hard work of the past has opened up opportunities for the future. Let us listen to each other, work together and guide the College of Saint Benedict into her second century.

For my inauguration this fall, I've chosen the theme, "Illuminated," which was inspired by the college's motto, "So let your light shine." The theme intends to acknowledge this momentous time for the college - the time when the torch has been passed. It is now up to each of us to bring our light into the world. And when we gather together, we can shine our collective light on the future. The brilliance of our aggregated light can build a beacon to welcome the next generation. We are illuminated.

Thank you.