President Mellon Inauguration Address


Bishop Zubik, members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, Chairperson Michele Atkins and members of the Board of Trustees, esteemed members of the platform party, Sr. Maureen Fay, delegates of universities and colleges, distinguished guests and friends of the University, students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, Friends and Family:

I am honored and humbled to stand before you today as the 10th President of Carlow University and accept the charge to lead this great institution. I would like to begin by briefly expressing my deep thanks to all of you who are here today.

First, thank you, Bishop Zubik for your presence. Your con-celebration of the inauguration mass yesterday with my former president and mentor Fr. Jonathan DeFelice and his reflections were very meaningful to me and to Fr. Dennis Holtschneider for your excellent remarks today — these all show the centrality of our Catholic identity and mission.

We also are deeply honored to have members of the Religious Sisters of Mercy with us today to share in this inaugural celebration. Without them, there would be no Carlow University. Would everyone please join me in recognizing the Sisters who helped create this university?

I would like to express my deep appreciation to the former presidents, Dr. Mary Hines, my predecessor, Sr. Grace Ann Geibel and Sr. Jane Scully, who are here today, and Sr. Marylouise Fennell, who was not able to attend. We are all grateful to you for your commitment in leading such a vibrant university.

I want to especially thank the faculty, staff and students who are Carlow University. The dedication and commitment I see from faculty and staff reaffirms what a special place this is and how blessed I am to lead this university.

To the students — every day I am reminded of what we are here for — and it is you — and your commitment to learning that makes Carlow what it is.

A special thanks to my family — sons Matthew, Patrick, and Christopher and my daughter Katie, their spouses Shelly, Kathy, Samantha, and Brad, along with my sisters, their husbands, and numerous friends who are here to celebrate with me. Your support has meant a great deal to me throughout my journey that brings me here today.

There are three others who are here in spirit only but I know are smiling down today on this event. My departed husband Andy and my parents were staunch supporters of me throughout my life — always providing counsel, support, and encouragement.

I, too, like many of our students, was a first generation college student, and never would have dreamed that I would become a University President. But it was important to my parents to have their four daughters attend college and they sacrificed to make it happen.

This inauguration not only has deep meaning for me personally, but also for the University as a pivotal event in its history. It is a time to look back at the past accomplishments, take review of where we are, and look forward to a new path to an inspiring future.

Carlow University, formerly Mt. Mercy College, would not be here today without the courage and bold action of its founders. I'd like to tell you a brief story of the founding of this university that has stood the test of time over the past 85 years but has striking relevance today.

In 1929, when Mount Mercy opened its doors, it was at the height of the Great Depression, resources were scarce and in Pittsburgh, there was no Catholic College available to women to attend — recent Catholic immigrants and mill workers had to struggle to make ends meet.

Most people then and today would not even dream of starting a college with no buildings, a limited faculty, and no endowment - they would think you were crazy to start a college under such conditions. Against these great odds, a small band of Sisters of Mercy established the first Catholic women's institution of higher learning in the region - with their efforts derailed more than once. But they were risk takers and life changers. They pursued doctoral degrees at a time when it was extremely uncommon for women to do so.

These were women undaunted in their courage to address the question "what is the next great need?" and they tackled it head-on. They viewed the education of women to be that important in the struggle to transform society and address the roots of poverty. The Pittsburgh Sisters of Mercy have been making their mark on the city of Pittsburgh ever since Frances Ward and her companions arrived from Ireland in 1843 — so starting a college for women 85 years ago was in keeping with a legacy of boldness and risk taking to address needs in the community.

Over the years the College changed and innovated without diminishing its values and what they stand for. Having been dedicated as a woman's-only college, in the 1940s the College began to admit men to address a need for education for returning veterans from WWII. The College were leaders in the 1970s and 80s in developing accelerated education programs for adults seeking higher education and established the Hill College extension site in a predominantly African-American community that provided education for women who would not have had that opportunity.

This was before the day of online education, which, no surprise, this university has embraced to provide the access and flexibility to individuals and adults returning for education or for career changes. We come from a legacy of not being afraid to let go and move on with courage and boldness. Our strong commitment to educating and empowering women continues to this day while at the same time we have become co-educational across all our programs.

The hallmarks of a Mercy education are alive and thriving here: to work to be of service in the world; to transform and empower individuals to have mastery over their lives through a liberal and professional education, to have faculty who are scholars doing work out in the world, with the outcome that our students and alumni change the world for the better. So, today, at this pivotal moment as we begin a new chapter in the history of Carlow, I want to talk to you about transformation and a new path to an inspiring future for this university which has been and will continue to be an integral part of the fabric of Pittsburgh.

These are challenging times for higher education and it is a time of urgency that requires bold leadership and innovation. Families are concerned about quality, cost, and their ability to send their child to college. Economic conditions are influencing the way prospective students view the value of attending college with worries about high debt load.

As a university with 50% of our students Pell-eligible and a strong national record of graduating these students with low loan default rates, we are also concerned about this and committed to maintaining access for students and supporting them to not only start their college education but to complete it. Students and families are also concerned about securing jobs after graduation. Governing Boards are concerned about net tuition revenues and financial sustainability of their institutions.

Our world is changing, people are changing with it, switching careers multiple times. Universities are here to serve society, and universities must also change. Carlow has proven itself nimble and flexible in this regard already.


Let me tell you about a former student:

Maxine Thomas entered Carlow as a 44 year old, first-time student with only a few community college credits under her belt. She had three children to raise, and a dream to move from her job as a bus driver for the McKeesport Area School District. Maxine decided she wanted something more and turned to Carlow although she knew it wouldn't be easy. She completed her morning bus run at 9 a.m., took courses in between, and took courses again at night. She says it was the best decision she ever made. She came to Carlow's doors with not much more than her noteworthy courage and her hope that education could be a game changer. She left with a degree in social work and today works with elderly dementia patients at the John J. Kane Regional Center in Glen Hazel. Please meet Maxine Thomas.

Make no mistake, today isn't about Suzanne Mellon or the beautiful medallion around my neck, today is about Maxine and the hundreds like her. Today is about answering that kind of courage with open doors and an open mind that all things are possible. Today is about proving over and over again that Maxine was right. Education is a game changer and the great equalizer in our society.

As a Catholic higher education institution, Carlow is in the business, as was called upon by Vatican II of all Catholic universities, of developing "great-souled" individuals who are desperately needed to address social justice and moral issues of our day. This will require innovation, risk-taking, and a creative response to the world with the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Today, I am privileged to share our vision for Carlow University as a preeminent Catholic University, renowned for providing transformational learning experiences in which students realize their full potential and become career-ready ethical leaders committed to a just and merciful world.

It is not just careers for when they graduate, but careers and opportunities we do not know even exist yet. Our students will be armed with the ethical and values-based foundation to handle the thorny and difficult situations that will require the type of leadership and foundation to address the community's and the world's problems.

As we move forward, we are finalizing a strategic plan for the University for the next 5 years. It is based on our history and our sense of deep urgency that this is a call to action for Carlow to lead and serve the common good.

I want to share the five overarching goals that have emerged after months of work by the strategic planning steering committee and broad discussion through multiple stakeholder focus groups.

Our First goal is to Accelerate Growth

We will strategically position ourselves to increase our enrollment across all our programs, in undergraduate traditional, transfer, adult and graduate programs. We will do this through expanding our online footprint regionally and beyond in offering the programs that the community needs.

We will develop new accelerated baccalaureate to masters programs for students who desire to complete a graduate degree in a more expedited and cost-effective manner. One core area we will expand is a Center of Excellence in health sciences.

Carlow is already noted for our nursing programs and it is time to expand our reach into other areas.

We have a strong commitment to Southwestern Pennsylvania and contributing to a vibrant Pittsburgh and the region. Pittsburgh is a destination and renaissance city and is positioned to move to a new level of vibrancy and innovation where it is regarded even more as a model to emulate across our great nation.

Yet, workers with the skill sets required to compete in today's global economy are in short supply. We will build on current partnerships and extend to new partnerships with industry and businesses to address the workforce needs of the future from our unique contribution as a Catholic University.

Our Second goal is Optimize Learning

With the multiple options for students today, we will provide exceptional Carlow learning experiences that are distinctive and integrate challenging and innovative programs with individualized services that enable students to think critically and creatively, and develop skills necessary for the global workplace.

Carlow is transforming and will continue to transform into a 21st century, high performance learning university that focuses on how students learn best, rather than perpetuating the previous century's teaching-centered model. We will expand the high impact practices needed in today's world, including global study, internships, undergraduate research and service learning.

Such service experiences are deeply rooted in our mission, affording our students a profound opportunity to connect their education with active participation in society addressing issues of social and economic justice such as homelessness in Allegheny County. We will expand this work.

We need to take the lead in more opportunities for action research in partnership with other community organizations, including Catholic social ministry agencies. This is meaningful scholarship.

Our Third goal is Pursue Innovation through Partnerships

We have a strong legacy of pursuing innovative projects and being forward thinking - we will expand on this. In fact, today I am pleased to announce that Carlow University will create a new Institute for Women's Leadership and Empowerment.

There is a strong need to address the social and health disparities of women and the role that women's leadership and voice can have for our community and the world. Carlow University's Institute for Women's Leadership and Empowerment will increase the capacity of women to become skilled change agents and social entrepreneurs within communities regional to global.

The Institute will help empower women - at all levels - who will use their voices to advocate for inclusiveness, justice, and democratized decision-making in their lives and in the lives of others.

Our Fourth goal is Increase Financial Sustainability

While we have demonstrated excellent fiscal stewardship in use of our resources and providing access to students who are often first-generation college students and do not have the resources to afford a college education we are not a rich institution with a large endowment. We plan to significantly increase our fundraising for scholarship assistance to keep our education affordable.

Recently, Carlow has raised more money than at any other period of time in its history. Funding is nearly complete for the signature project of this campaign: The University Commons, which will be a transformation in the learning environment for our students.

Special recognition is due to our campaign's honorary chairs who have made a significant commitment to the future of Carlow University. However, we cannot rest on our laurels, and philanthropy will be an increasingly significant part of the Carlow culture in the future. We need to grow our endowment and continue to provide access to an education that is transformational in the lives of our students and alumni.

Our Fifth and final goal is Transform our Environment

This goal includes the physical spaces on campus that promote optimal student learning and the digital learning environment to deliver the 21st century learning for our students to succeed in today's world.

In 2015, we will be opening the transformed University Commons, which will feature a library of the future and innovative collaborative centers for student learning and academic support.

At Carlow University, it is our commitment to our students that we will engage with them in Transforming Lives and Transforming our World.

Let me tell you about one of my greatest teachers when I was an undergraduate nursing student. She was a 45-year-old mother who had stage 4 cancer. Elizabeth taught me what a textbook never could - the power of prayer, the role of faith, the worth of a single hug or how the clench of a patient's hand within a nursing student's hand in an ICU — in the toughest of moments — can sometimes say more than words ever can, more than what can be seen on the monitors or patient charts.

That's the moment when science and theology collide.

Let's all take a lesson from Elizabeth and the people in our lives that teach us that we are better together than we are apart and that whatever journey we are on personally or academically, we all have the capacity to transform lives, to inspire hope and to keep dreams alive.

Let us never forget that education, especially at a Catholic University, is about much more than granting degrees, it's about moving dreams forward, ours and those around us and in the process making our world a little better than it was yesterday and a little more compassionate than it would be without us.

Yes, we will move boldly into the future, but as we do, we look to the courage of the founders of Carlow University, their risk taking and life changing entrepreneurial spirit that made and continues to make a difference in this community. Be assured that amid today's beautiful ceremony and traditions, a day I will cherish for the rest of my life, I will never lose sight of the fact that presidents come and go, but institutions endure.

Today's ceremony is more about Carlow University than it is about me. Know that I will commit myself fully and faithfully to the work ahead, inspired by your confidence, and humbled by those who have brought Carlow to where it is today. I ask you to join me as we work to make the vision of Carlow University as a preeminent Catholic university a reality.

Mother Catherine McAuley said, "While we rely totally on God, we must act as if all depended on ourselves." With the faculty, staff, alumni, Board and community, I know that we will create the future where we fulfill our mission " to embrace an ethic of service for a just and merciful world."

Thank you. May God bless you, and may God bless Carlow University.