Southwestern expecting largest incoming class

As Southwestern University welcomes its 15th president, Edward Burger, in July, the liberal arts college is also gearing up to welcome a record-breaking number of first-year students.

Dave Voskuil, Southwestern University vice president of enrollment services, said the school currently has about 500 students who have paid deposits to enroll in the school for the first time this fall, which is almost 150 more than the previous year.

"Our first-year student enrollment has grown, and it will be the largest first-year student class that we will have," Voskuil said. "Part of that is, of course, due to the implementation of football here at Southwestern. We are also adding women's lacrosse. And the rest of that is growth of our mainstream students. Even without football and women's lacrosse, we've had a nice growth in our first-year enrollment."

The addition of the two sports teams is expected to add about 100 new students, he said.

In 2010, the university adopted the Shaping Our Future strategic plan, which called for the school to increase its student body from 1,250 to about 1,500 in five years. This year's enrollment achieves that goal ahead of schedule, Voskuil said.

"One of the objectives in our strategic plan was to get to 1,500 students, and it looks like we will be close to 1,525 or so this fall. That's pretty significant," he said. "Our enrollment last fall was 1,394. That enrollment last fall was the largest ever. Obviously we leapfrogged right over 1,500, and we are where we want to be."

The increased student population is expected to help the school's budget, which in previous years had been affected by a transition to a tuition-based model from an endowment-revenue model, said Ron Swain, senior adviser to the president for strategic planning and assessment, in December 2011. Fewer students than expected in the 2011–12 school year contributed to a

$2.8 million shortfall.

Voskuil said the increased enrollment is also expected to help maximize the university's facilities.

"I think that particular size of enrollment, from my perspective, allows you to have very active programming across the campus," Voskuil said. "Whether it be athletic programs, sororities or fraternities, whether it be academic clubs and organizations or fine arts productions, you'll find that an enrollment of about that size enables each of those programs to have a sufficient number of students to make it worthwhile."

Voskuil said most areas of enrollment are increasing, including a jump from two or three international students to 14 this fall and an increase in transfer students, partly because of a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

"This year we had about 3,550 first-year applications and 270 transfer applications for the fall. Our applicant pool this year is about 750 more applications than last year," he said, adding that along with enrollment increasing, interest in the university in terms of applications has also increased. "We've struggled a couple of years with the numbers, but this year we blew the top off."

Southwestern awarded grant for science center

On June 17, Southwestern announced it had received a $1.15 million grant from The Brown Foundation Inc. of Houston that will help fund construction of the university's new science center.

The school began working on the center's design in December. Construction on the project that includes remodeling and adding 23,700 square feet of space to the existing Fondren-Jones Science Building could start in spring 2014, said Bob Mathis, associate vice president for facilities and campus services.

About $1 million from the grant will go toward the center's construction and allow the university to claim a $1 million challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla., that was awarded in January.

The grant brings the total amount of money raised for the science center to $8 million, which will allow the first phase of the project to begin. Phase 1 is expected to be completed for the 2015–16 school year, Mathis said.

"Our objective is to provide a great science education," said Rick McKelvey, vice president for institutional advancement at Southwestern, after the school was awarded the Mabee Foundation challenge grant. "We have the faculty. We have the students. Now we want to have a contemporary facility that meets their level."

The project's second phase will include remodeling portions of the building constructed in 1954.

Once the expansion is completed, a new three-story entrance will be built on the northwest side of the building, which will have 103,000 square feet of classrooms, offices, seminar rooms and laboratories.

The entire project is expected to cost $24 million.

Edward Burger

Southwestern University president

What drew you to administration?

The past 12 years or so, I've been thinking much more broadly about education. I've been trying to think about not just what I do when I engage with my students, but what we can do as a community to work together—administrators, faculty, staff, alumni and students—to come together to offer the most meaningful, rich educational experience. That led a number of the initiatives that I actually drove both at Williams [College] and at Baylor [University]. It seemed like a natural progression. The idea being of an administrator, whatever that means, that's something that is not very meaningful to me. I see myself as an educator but at the next kind of level in a progression where I'm now working with an entire campus and a much larger, more diverse population of individuals as we all try to think about what education should mean in the 21st century.

What drew you to Southwestern?

When I was told that someone nominated me as a candidate and asked if I would consider it, I thought that it was a wonderful opportunity. As I discovered more about the actual curriculum and the Paideia Program in particular, the work with civic engagement and the idea that faculty are coming together and thinking across [departmental] lines, I found that very exciting, and I believe that to be the future.

How will you approach taking the leadership role at Southwestern?

One of the things I was stressing is how important it is to work collaboratively with faculty, staff, students and alumni to get all those voices to come together and hear those common themes, and then the leader of the institution should be able to listen to those common themes and pull those out and put them on [out in] front as we go forward. That's what I plan on doing, and that's what I've been doing in my intervening months trying to learn and get up to speed.

How do you see your role as president?

This gets back to how I define myself as a president [who will] continue my work as an educator. I see it as kind of a global educator. That will include engaging with students in the classroom, which I really look forward to doing, [and] working with faculty in adding my voice to a conversation about pedagogy and where education is moving in the 21st century.

I also see my role as spokesperson for Southwestern to try to attract individuals to look at Southwestern and to think about the elements of the institution that will keep it going in perpetuity.

How do you plan to continue to work on the university's integration into the city?

Engagement with Georgetown is extremely important.

We have to get to know each other, and then see where there are going to be exciting opportunities for us to get together and work on things.

I want to be engaged with the "town and gown" committees and the mayor, the former mayor, the president of the chamber of commerce. I think there really are lots of opportunities, and we have to think about things that are good for both Southwestern and Georgetown because when one benefits, the other benefits.