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New Year's letter to the Transylvania community

Dear Transylvania Family,

Happy New Year! It is hard to believe that we have turned the calendar to 2012. This past year was a busy one, and the coming year will undoubtedly keep us equally engaged. Please allow me to recount some important news on campus, not the least of which is that the campus itself has been substantially expanded in size.

This past September, we welcomed the class of 2015, a small but mighty class of 259 students whose average high school GPA was an impressive 3.76 and average ACT was 27. The class includes 34 Kentucky Governor's Scholars and Governor's School for the Arts participants and six National Merit Finalists. International students in the class hail from China, Hungary, Nigeria, and Taiwan.

Speaking of admissions, you will recall that last year we engaged a national consulting firm to assist us with the creation of a Strategic Enrollment Plan, which is intended to help us grow the student body, focusing particularly on out-of-state, minority, and international enrollment while bolstering our commitment to Kentucky. After implementing an astounding 33 new admissions initiatives, the plan is already paying off. With the early deadline for applications having just passed, we have 25 percent more applicants than ever before.

In the area of academics, Transylvania continues to pioneer new standards of excellence. We put the finishing touches on an exciting new August term for all entering first-year students that will debut this year. This ambitious three-week academic and cocurricular program will introduce our newest students to what is expected of them as budding liberal arts scholars. The addition of Qian Gao as assistant professor of Chinese language and culture is a milestone for Transylvania as we create a new focus on Asian studies. We also hope to expand our summer liberal education seminar for professors at liberal arts colleges by creating one for college presidents. And our innovative Creative Intelligence lecture series brought distinguished visiting scholars to campus throughout the year. I encourage everyone to take advantage of these stimulating presentations. 

Our students often excel academically, but I want to highlight one case in particular.  Lee Richardson, a senior biochemistry and Spanish double major from Nicholasville, was one of 12 finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship in the district of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. This was a singular honor for Lee and Transylvania.

You may recall the wonderful Civil War symposium featuring prominent scholars from Harvard, Yale, and Sewanee, which was part of my inauguration ceremony this past April. Also, in June, national political leaders were on stage in Haggin Auditorium for a moderated discussion titled “The Role of the Speaker of the House: A Tribute to Henry Clay.” A one-hour program of each event subsequently aired on Kentucky Educational Television. Both events drew considerable attention to the academic heritage and current excellence of Transylvania’s role as a leading liberal arts college.

Icing on the cake for that event came when the Council for Advancement and Support of Education-Kentucky gave a Grand Champion award to our communications office for the comprehensive presidential inauguration project, which included more than 40 unique pieces, highlighted by the award-winning invitation and program. CASE also recognized the Transylvania website with Grand Champion awards for design and implementation, and homepage.

The future of our diversity initiatives brightened considerably this past year when Eduardo Nino-Moreno joined our staff as Transylvania’s first director of campus diversity and inclusion. Eduardo brings an impressive resume to his new position that includes nearly three decades with the United Nations, where he worked in 14 countries and carried out missions in many more. His role is to foster the necessary discussions and become a change agent for all areas of diversity at the university, where his impact is already being felt.

A paperless campaign is an ongoing component of our sustainability efforts, and we have reduced our total consumption by 648,638 sheets of paper during the past year.  PaperCut print control software is reducing paper waste in student computer labs, and the accounting office uses paperless student billing and direct deposit of employee pay. We installed 10 digital signage monitors around campus displaying information that previously was printed for posting.

Our athletics programs enjoyed great success in 2011, beginning with our claiming the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference’s Commissioners Cup for leading the league in combined points for both men’s and women’s teams. The Pioneers also won the All-Sports trophy for women’s athletics for the second year in a row. Our men’s and women’s soccer teams won HCAC regular-season and tournament titles and played in the NCAA Division III national championship; the men’s golf team won the league tournament and played in the NCAA; the women’s tennis team won the HCAC flighted tournament; and the softball and men’s tennis teams were HCAC season champions. As the 2011-12 men’s basketball season got underway in November, the Pioneers had the distinction of playing a historic exhibition game against the University of Kentucky Wildcats, the nation’s No. 1 Division I team, in front of more than 21,000 fans in Rupp Arena. 

We significantly increased our intercollegiate athletics offerings last year by adding programs in men’s and women’s lacrosse, competitive cheerleading and dance, and equestrian, bringing to 23 the total number of sports programs.

Last May, we graduated 263 seniors, the most in the school’s 231-year history. A committee is brainstorming ideas on how to expand commencement with several additional festivities and will soon share their ideas with the campus community.

I am very pleased to announce that, just this past month, we closed on two major properties near campus, which together add about 12.5 (mostly vacant) acres to our existing 39-acre campus. This land, located at Fourth and Jefferson streets, will be used primarily for new athletics fields, though we have engaged a campus planner who will help us imagine the range of other options.

The pending campus plan will be part of a larger strategic plan, now being developed by the Board of Trustees through a 15-person Strategic Planning Committee (SPC), supported by a 12-member working group consisting of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Several of the board, faculty, and staff representatives from those two groups are also alumni of the college. The SPC hopes to have its plan completed by later this year. 

On a personal note, it remains a joy and honor to serve as president of this historic institution. All of my early impressions about the quality of liberal education to be found at Transylvania have been confirmed, and now we are embarking on exciting new initiatives that will not merely maintain that excellence, but improve upon it. It’s a great time for all of us to be part of the Transylvania community.

All the best for the New Year,
Owen Williams
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