Dear Southwestern community,

Welcome home!

In just a few days, our community of students, faculty, and staff will all be back on campus to officially begin our 181st year. I enjoyed meeting many of our students and their families over move-in weekend and look forward to greeting many more in the coming weeks.

We open the academic year by welcoming an outstanding first-year class. I commend the work of Vice President for Strategic Recruitment and Enrollment Tom Delahunt and the entire admission team for their success in recruiting a top-notch class of students during very difficult circumstances. Our newest students arrive with strong academic credentials. Their average SAT score is 1270, compared to last year’s average score of 1227, and their average high school GPA is 3.48, compared to last year’s average GPA of 3.45. In addition to the 368 first-year students, we will be joined by 49 transfer students, 7 readmitted students, and 1,112 returning students, making our total enrollment 1,534. We have seen a growth in students from out of state, who now comprise 15.1% of our enrollment.

Over the summer I achieved one of my long-time personal goals by hiking 63 miles—the last remaining section I needed to finish in order to complete the entire John Muir Trail (JMT) in California. I have backpacked various sections of this arduous, picturesque trail over the last several years, but hiking this year seemed especially daunting. Like many, I found the pandemic to be mentally trying, and I was less motivated to stay in trekking shape. Also, this was my first hike since turning 60 and having hip replacement surgery. However, thanks to solid preparation, the support of my fellow hikers, and good fortune, I finished the 215-mile-long trail. As an added incentive, this hike raised funds to support students who undertake our high-impact experiences. A big thank you to the more than 140 people who donated over $30,000 during the Find Your Summit campaign. You were the wind beneath my very tired feet!

While hiking, I had plenty of time to reflect on my first year as president of Southwestern. I thought about all we were able to accomplish and overcome as a community. I also stayed motivated by thinking about the year ahead and the University’s upcoming events and plans. I will present my initiatives, our five-year tactical plan, and the overall status of the University during my State of the University Address on August 19. In the meantime, let me share a preview of some upcoming events and provide you with a few updates.

On October 15–17, our campus community will be joined by alumni and other members of the Southwestern family for a number of long-overdue in-person events during Homecoming weekend. The festivities start on October 15 with my inauguration ceremony and the Roy and Margaret Shilling Lecture featuring Ruth J. Simmons. Simmons is the president of Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas. She previously served as president of Brown University from 2001 to 2012. Under Simmons’s leadership, Brown made significant strides in improving its standing as one of the world’s finest research universities. The title of her talk is “Diversity in Higher Education: How Far Have We Come?” The remainder of the weekend will include the President’s Appreciation Celebration (a dinner for President’s Council donors), 24 reunion parties, the Homecoming picnic, the Jameson 5K race, athletic competitions, and other community-wide events.

The facilities management team has been hard at work over the summer, coordinating over 50 different campus projects and repairing/replacing nearly every roof on campus due to the hail storm two years ago. Several major maintenance items will be completed over the next few months, including making mechanical updates to the Herman Brown and Moody–Shearn residence halls, adding an outdoor deck to the library, resurfacing the outdoor running track, modernizing the elevator in the Brown–Cody Residence Hall, and installing a new outdoor basketball court and sand volleyball court. We are also upgrading the offices and lobby at the Robertson Center and the commuter lounge in the Prothro Center, as well as adding automatic and accessible doors to some residence halls. You will also notice an overall beautification of campus through landscaping and exterior power washing of some of our buildings, including the Cullen Building.

Our award-winning Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) is transitioning from the division of Student Life to the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations (OAPR) within the Office of University Relations. This move reflects the University’s commitment to helping current students navigate the ever-changing employment landscape. The transition will allow the CCPD to better leverage the community of 16,000 alumni, 2,400 current parents, and thousands of friends who can support students and young alumni in their career exploration and development. Integrating the CCPD with the OAPR is part of our vision for the institution, as outlined in the 2021–2026 Tactical Plan: to distinguish Southwestern as a top liberal-arts university in the nation.

new brand is just one of the many exciting things happening for our Athletics Department. Mason Biggers ’21, who was a team captain on the 2020–2021 football team, collaborated with Southwestern’s Creative Director Matt Madsen to design the new primary logo, secondary logo, and wordmark, which feature a modern look while paying homage to the University’s rich history. Currently, we anticipate all competitions to go on as scheduled. Our student-athletes are ready to start fall sports with spectators in attendance and full schedules, and I am ready to cheer them on.

Although, like you, I had hoped we would never have to mention COVID-19 again, the reality is we must remain vigilant and work together to dampen the spread of this wretched virus. Vaccinations are required for all students and strongly recommended for faculty and staff. Exemptions to the vaccine may be granted for certain circumstances. At this time, due to the Delta surge, everyone must wear masks indoors. Please remember all health protocols are subject to change as the pandemic continues to evolve. You can visit our COVID-19 Dashboard for ongoing updates.

I look forward to the numerous opportunities we will have to get to know each other better in the coming months. I will be teaching a First-Year Seminar class this fall and am very much looking forward to meeting some of our newest students. My early morning walks will continue this year starting on Monday, September 13, at 7:30 a.m. in front of the President’s House, and I’m happy to inform you that the Captain’s Sweet Surprise will soon be returning to campus. Keep an eye out for more details.

In the frenzy of the coming days, please remember to take a few moments to soak in the beauty of our campus and the fellowship of our community. There is nothing like Southwestern University, and collectively, you are the people who make it so very special. 


Laura Skandera Trombley