Wednesday December 28, 2016

On the Road to 2037

By Eric Spina

Skimming through notes from my recent whirlwind visits to alumni communities, I smiled at the image of “a walking billboard of excellence.”

That’s how one UD graduate described how you’d be able to recognize fellow alumni in 2037, the nominal “arrival date” for our strategic visioning exercise. Alumni noted many other attributes of future graduates that I believe already ring true: selfless, compassionate, humble, entrepreneurial, globally aware, and focused on social justice. In a word, servant-leaders. And in a phrase that speaks to our Marianist, Catholic essence, servant-leaders who make a positive difference in their communities.

This fall, Vice President Jennifer Howe and I traveled to Chicago (twice), Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York to meet our graduates and imagine together the University of Dayton’s future. In October, we gathered Dayton-area alumni together for an event that was streamed on Facebook Live. You can watch that visioning event here. In all these gatherings, we asked our alumni to define our core values that must remain at the center of who we are and to answer these questions: What areas of strength should we build upon, and what should we be known for nationally and internationally in 20 years?

In January and February, we will travel to Florida (Naples and Miami), Hilton Head and then to Ohio’s biggest cities — Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland — to test some of the ideas, values and priorities that emerged from the fall conversations and the steering committee’s work.

I’m encouraged by the level of engagement and the wealth of creative ideas from these alumni trips, “Visioning Day” and “future vision labs” on campus, as well as smaller group meetings with community members in the Dayton region. Thousands have already weighed in on UD’s future in ways that illustrate the deep love for and appreciation of our great University.

For Jennifer and me, it’s been energizing criss-crossing the country to meet with alumni, from young graduates to Golden Flyers, for the first time. Each alumni community takes on the special character of its city, with a Dayton flair. I felt the same warm family spirit in these communities as I experience daily on our campus.

No matter their degree or their ages, our alumni share a deep connection to the University of Dayton — and a sense of expectation and hope for the future.

And no matter which part of the country we visited, we discovered a hunger.

Alumni want more engagement with their alma mater. They want to see more college-bound students in their communities choose UD.  They’d like to help secure more internships, co-ops and jobs for our students. They’d like to see us build a greater national reputation for all our noteworthy efforts — from research that helps humanity to experiential learning that prepares students to excel in the global workplace. They realize we need to increase our reputation and raise funds to enable us to improve our accessibility and diversity, the greatest challenges facing us as we move into the future.

As I listened to our alumni, I felt their profound passion, optimism and faith in our future. With experience as leaders in their professions, they understand we must focus on our strengths, make hard choices and commit ourselves to a small set of strategic priorities that will dramatically shape the future of the University of Dayton in ways we can only dream about today…while still retaining the essential character of our University that we know so well. 

This is a challenge, but I am confident we will meet the tests of the next two decades because we have a history of transforming ourselves for the times while still remaining true to our founders’ vision and our history.

Our alumni — walking billboards for the Marianist philosophy of education — will keep us grounded in our historic mission as we reach for new heights.

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