September 6, 2013

Be Our Guest / Daniel Elsener

‘The power of doing’ at Marian University

Recent reports in The Indianapolis Star and other news media have underscored the declining student enrollment at colleges and universities nationally, and the seemingly ever-present concern about the cost and quality of our country’s higher education offerings.

Certainly, actions are being taken to help address this problematic reality, with perhaps the most aggressive being that of the Lumina Foundation to ensure that 60 percent of all Americans have a high quality two-or four-year degree, but few would argue that a quick fix to our nation’s post-secondary education challenges is within reach.

This discomforting news comes at a time when across the nation there is cause for great celebration. The beginning of summer follows a joyous commencement season, a time filled with the excitement of diploma conferral, the sharing of inspirational truths, and the beaming optimism of recent graduates and their families. Thus, it seems appropriate to take a moment to reflect upon and celebrate the wonderful contributions of higher education to the cultural, social and economic vitality of our city, our archdiocese and beyond.

Great cities are home to many diverse colleges and universities that adeptly educate women and men to best employ their skills and talents in service to their communities. Indianapolis is no exception. We are fortunate to have several nationally renowned academic institutions serving our city, state and nation.

In addition, great American cities frequently are home to great Catholic universities whose mission includes, but is much more than, helping students develop skills and experience they can use in the workplace or in professional fields of expertise.

For more than 75 years, Marian University, Indianapolis’ only Catholic university, has been blessed to be among the academic institutions providing exceptional educational preparation to students in this wonderful city, boosting the human capital that facilitates economic and cultural development, and transforming human lives in the Catholic, Franciscan and liberal arts traditions.

A profound sense of excitement surrounds our efforts here at Marian University because we’ve made many dramatic changes that are paying great dividends not only to the university but also to our city, our archdiocese and all the communities we serve throughout the United States and beyond.

Since 2011, when national college enrollment numbers began declining, we’ve actually seen an increase in enrollment. In fact, our success can be traced back 10 years, when we first engaged local community leaders in an effort to identify their needs for the coming decade. We learned then that those community leaders saw a need to identify and train the next generation of leaders. We’ve responded by focusing our leadership development efforts in four key areas—health care, education, business and religion.

The health care community was especially concerned about the shortage of doctors projected in central Indiana. It’s a problem that many communities are facing; nationally, the shortfall of family doctors, pediatricians, and other generalists is expected to reach 52,000 by 2025, according to a study published last year in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Marian University is doing its part to alleviate that shortage by opening the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine last month. Housed in the new Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences building on the south end of our campus, it is Indiana’s first new school of medicine in more than 100 years, one of only five Catholic medical schools nationally, and the country’s only Catholic osteopathic medical school. In close collaboration with Marian’s renowned Alan and Sue Leighton School of Nursing, our new medical school will carry on the healing ministry of Jesus in the traditions established for us by Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi.

As impactful as it will be to place hundreds of new doctors into our communities in the coming years, our new Academy for Teaching and Learning Leadership may ultimately prove to have an even far greater impact. The academy’s primary purpose is to develop and prepare aspiring and practicing K-12 school leaders, providing them with tools necessary to implement aggressive reforms within their schools. We designed the program in partnership with world renowned scholars, researchers, and experts on effecting change and creating school cultures that lead to improved student learning.

We’re working closely with Gina Fleming, superintendent of archdiocesan schools, and Catholic school leaders throughout Indiana, to offer a program of leadership education and formation that truly serves the needs of Catholic school leaders in our archdiocese and beyond. As a former teacher, principal and superintendent, I firmly believe that the resulting impact on student achievement and spiritual growth will be immense.

Adjusting our approach to help develop the next generation of business leaders was one of our most difficult challenges. Central Indiana is blessed with several great business schools, and we believed it was important to differentiate ourselves from them in a meaningful way. That’s why at the Clark H. Byrum School of Business, we “do” business rather than teach it.

By that, I mean that our students are learning how to operate in the business world by “doing” business in the classroom beginning on Day 1. It’s a unique hands-on approach that engages our students with the local business community, allowing them to work on projects that present the ethical dilemmas and require difficult decision-making that business leaders face on a routine basis. By connecting values, leadership and action, we firmly believe that our students will be better prepared to launch and advance their careers while making a difference in the world.

Finally, we’re helping prepare leaders for service to the Church. In collaboration with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and its Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary, Marian University provides academic formation for 40 students from 10 Catholic dioceses in the Midwest. We’re also educating 35 outstanding women and men in our San Damiano Scholars program. This exceptional undergraduate program has been strongly endorsed by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and the many pastors throughout central and southern Indiana, who have benefitted from Marian students and alumni who are currently serving as lay leaders in parishes, schools and other faith-based institutions. 

At Marian University, we work diligently to identify the needs of our city, our society and the world, and we take action in the areas where we can be of greatest service. This is our mission. This is what we call “the power of doing.”

Marian’s recent efforts have been dramatic—sometimes called the “Marian Miracle.” Guided and sustained by an outstanding board of trustees, administration, faculty, staff and more than 10,000 alumni who live and work in this area, Marian University will continue to grow this “Miracle” by educating students for spiritual growth, leadership and personal/professional success.

Indiana is blessed with a highly valuable network of institutions of higher learning. Let us celebrate these graduates’ successes and affirm the value of the institutions that so adeptly and meaningfully facilitated their intellectual achievement.

Yes, today’s colleges and universities face many challenges—economically, culturally and spiritually. Let’s face these challenges head-on, but let’s also be thankful for what is being accomplished in our colleges and universities, and be mindful of the great sacrifices made to advance the cultural, social, spiritual and intellectual well-being of the women and men who are our community’s present and future leaders.

(Daniel Elsener is president of Marian University in Indianapolis.)

Local site Links: