Gonzaga University looks to future during anniversary
As Jesuit school celebrates 125 years here, it considers contemporary challenges
Guest CommentaryAugust 30th, 2012
As Gonzaga commemorates its 125th anniversary in Spokane, I invite the regional business community to join with the university in imagining what our future together will look like.
In Spokane, the vital role higher educa-tion plays in the overall pro-sperity of the region is clear and appreciated through many initiatives. Those include the broad-based support for the expansion of the health sciences and medical school, as well as the visionary work that's been done to establish a University District as a catalyst for the region's continuing growth.
We understand that higher education is about more than preparing a workforceit's about building relationships, harnessing intellectual energy, creating businesses around technical solutions, and injecting innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurism into the community.
Within this dynamic and urgent context, Gonzaga this year has the privilege of celebrating an important institutional milestone. In the 1880s, when the Inland Northwest was still largely frontier, city fathers invited the Jesuits of the Rocky Mountain Mission to establish this university, initially for competitive advantage. They understood that to flourish, a college was necessary on both the individual and civic levels: individual, as the region needed educated people to work and lead; civic, in that a college augured for community stability, permanence, and opportunity for success at a time when many small towns came and went.
Today, while the cultural and environmental context has changed significantly, the core purpose and functional realities have not. Gonzaga is still focused on providing an educational experience whereby an individual can develop the capacity to lead and successfully serve through development of intellectual, spiritual, and physical strength.
A year of exploration
Given our historical roots and the current social context, it's no surprise that as Gonzaga celebrates 125 years, we are focused on the futureand what it holds for the institution, our community, and the world.
We know that Gonzaga's path forward must be built on excellence and relevance: excellence because a superior educational experience requires nothing less, and relevance because our purpose is to prepare graduates for the contemporary demands and challenges of the professions and fields they will enter. Our work proudly takes place in the context of a defining relationship with the Catholic Church and the Jesuit intellectual tradition.
It also takes place in partnership with the community. Our development as an institution paralleled the growing needs of the region, and our engagement with the community is lived out daily in our work. Thousands of GU alums call the Inland Northwest home. Hundreds of Gonzaga students conduct internships and work study experiences in local businesses. Hundreds more, along with faculty and staff, provide essential service and volunteer leadership in nonprofit organizations and initiatives.
That's why we hope the community will join us to experience the respected visionaries and perspectives we are bringing to campus to inform and inspire our reflections at 125. Among other key events this year, we warmly welcome you to hear bestselling author and Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman at his Sept. 4 talk here, titled, "That Used to Be Us: A Crucial Time for America and the Role Higher Education Must Play."
Thomas Friedman is a provocative writer and engaging speaker whose strong opinions touch the fields of politics, education, industry, economics and economic competitiveness, energy, and other important issues of our time. As a journalist and a keen observer of human industry and creativity, he has traveled the world observing and reflecting on the significant forces at work within and between cultures. His insights and publications, including "From Beirut to Jerusalem," "The World is Flat," and "Hot Flat and Crowded" have been generating conversations for years.
Many civic, business, and education leaders will be familiar with the 2011 work Friedman co-authored with foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum. "That Used to Be Us" outlines four major challenges on which America's future depends: globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation's chronic deficits, and energy consumption. His talk at Gonzaga will focus on the vital tasks education must embrace to help the nation confront these issues.
His perspective comes at a time when higher education is awash in a sea change that portends to impact everything, forcing colleges and universities to reassess traditional functions.
As technology connects the world as never before, we understand problems and solutions in a global context more clearly than ever. At GU and campuses everywhere, students expect and welcome international experiences as part of their formal education.
While harnessing information technologies to support teaching and learning isn't new, the ubiquity of technology in the lives of today's students has created a seismic shift inside and outside classrooms. Fingertip access to extensive libraries, databases, archives, and information sources all open doors to knowledge previously unseen and unimaginable. Online learning continues to expand at Gonzaga as elsewhere.
There's skepticism about the cost of college education, along with serious concerns about government's ability to sustain successful financial-aid programs. National attention is focused on disturbing levels of student debt, at the same time acknowledging the vital need to ensure access for middle-income families and underserved populations. At Gonzaga, scholarships and university-funded student aid is the fastest-growing sector of our budget.
Local and national conversations also focus on the impact that access, affordability, and quality has on development of America's citizenry and its workforce. The emerging priority on STEM disciplinesscience, technology, engineering, and mathematicsare evidence of this trend.
In October, Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education will address Gonzaga's leadership. And next April, we will welcome the community to campus to hear Dr. Jane Goodall, primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace. Many other guest lecturers are on the calendar.
We are grateful for the relationship that exists between GU and the Inland Northwest. We look forward to celebrating this relationship throughout the year to come, and hope you will join with us to listen, discuss, and create new responses to the challenges and opportunities faced by our community and our world.