State of the College Address

by President MaryAnn Baenninger

MABOn behalf of the faculty, staff and administration of College of Saint Benedict, welcome... each of you... to our largest reunion ever - in honor of the 100th anniversary of College of Saint Benedict.

We've been working and preparing and eagerly anticipating your arrival. So much great effort has gone into putting together this celebration for you and for our beloved Saint Ben's. For 100 years old, I believe she has aged gracefully!

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the staff and crew and, of course, the students who helped make this happen. I'd call them all to stage, but after so many weeks and months of preparing for and anticipating this event, most of them are so revved up on adrenaline and Mountain Dew I don't think I could get them to stand still for that long.

They're out there though. They're ready to make this a truly memorable weekend for all of you. And there are a lot of you - over 1,400 registered.

I am in awe...seeing you all together and feeling the energy in this room and looking out at some of the familiar faces I see of proud alumnae; you have accomplished so much. The world is a better place because of you

You have taken the lessons from this Catholic, Benedictine residential liberal arts tradition ... and you bring them with you to work, to your communities and into your homes. You are grounded in these lessons that taught you to think critically, to listen with the ear of the heart, to face adversity and to solve problems. This is what makes Saint Ben's a place like no other. This is what makes each of you a woman like no other.

All of this firmly solidifies for me a position I've stated before: The world needs more Bennies.

And when I say that, I don't mean Saint Ben's should get "bigger." I mean "better." I mean we should make Saint Ben's stronger and more capable than ever - so she remains an institution that attracts young women of potential; educates them in mind, body and spirit; and connects with them in ways that makes them Bennies for life.

We just graduated 514 new alumnae last month. I can imagine a world 100 years from now where instead of 21,000 alums we have another  50,000 women educated in the Saint Ben's tradition.

Now, as we celebrate our first hundred years of this amazing tradition of education for women ... and we anticipate the next hundred years ... I want to reflect on the pivotal moments from our past that will guide us into our future.

The world was very different when Saint Ben's was founded. In 1913, most Americans did not have private telephones in their homes. The automobile - still largely a status symbol of the elite - had just begun to be mass produced and there was no commercial airline industry. Much of America did not yet have electricity. The technology to allow a U.S. President to broadcast a speech via "television" wouldn't be viable until our first graduates were celebrating their 25th reunion. And the idea of live on-demand video streaming over the "internet" like we're doing right now? I don't suppose even the most visionary of our sisters would have imagined that in 1913.

So, yes, it was a different time back when the Sisters of Saint Benedict founded a Catholic liberal arts college for women in the heart of Central Minnesota. Women did not have the right to vote, yet College of Saint Benedict was born of the rich heritage, bold leadership and pioneering determination of our Benedictine foremothers.

As is true of all Bennies, the founding sisters of Saint Ben's were clearly ahead of their time!

The sisters would directly sustain the college through its first 50 years while they continued to expand their ministries throughout the United States and the world. Until, in 1961, they made the forward-looking decision to let the college fly on its own wings, and they gave the college its corporate independence. 

True to the sisters' aspirations, the College has thrived. And the sisters have continued to stand by us.

Now though, as we begin our second century, our plans must be bold. We must reflect the changing world, advance new ideas and encourage brave ambitions ... just as our foremothers taught us.

Our first graduating class faced a very different world than our class of 2013. But all of the technological advances, and even the coming 100th anniversary of women's right to vote won't negate the need to develop and educate women as we continue to make our way through what's been deemed "the century of the woman."

As the Women's College Coalition aptly asserts, there is an "unfinished agenda" for women's equality. We wait in anticipation for the first woman president of the United States. We have yet to earn equal pay for equal work. And equality for women in the Catholic Church remains a dream. Women work harder for less compensation in all areas of life. Society's and our own expectations make aspirations and goals for women and girls complex and slow to change.

Saint Ben's has helped. And each of you is a beacon of progress for an entire world of women. And you are making progress.

So I'll say it again - and I encourage you to say it with me: The world needs more Bennies.

Currently there are just over 21,000 Saint Ben's alums. Nearly 16 percent of you have chosen to apply the Benedictine values you acquired here toward a career in healthcare. And almost 19 percent of you have chosen careers in education. That's truly wonderful.

At the same time, over 30 percent of you have taken your degrees into business roles that help run government agencies, non-profit and for-profit organizations. The business world needs more Benedictine values. (motion to the audience to say with you) The world needs more Bennies.

One year after graduation, the Saint Ben's class of 2011 had a full 9 percent of its alums in full-time volunteer service. AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Amate House, Benedictine Volunteer Corps ... the class of 2011 was at work for humanity in 7 different states and 10 different countries. A year earlier, the class of 2010's percentage was even higher. And that's just those in full-time volunteer service. We know that nearly all of our alums have served their communities in a volunteer capacity. The world needs more commitment to service. (again motion to audience) The world needs more Bennies.

College of Saint Benedict is an absolute leader in campus internationalization. We send more students abroad than any other baccalaureate institution in the United States. With students from 40 countries, we, with our partner Saint John's, are home to more international students than any other private college in Minnesota. We are passionate about preparing students for the intricacies of our world. And our alums carry that preparation out into the world. Currently there are Bennies living in 52 countries outside the United States. The world needs more cultural connection. (again motion) The world needs more Bennies.

Our current cohort of students  stands ready to answer that call and live up to your legacy. Last fall, the mean score on the ACT college readiness assessment for incoming first-year Saint Ben's students was 26. That average ACT score placed new Saint Ben's students among the top 20 percent of all test-takers nationally.

In other words, Saint Ben's is able to attract and enroll top student talent. The Bennies of today ... and tomorrow ... are intelligent young women with limitless potential.

When their abilities and ambitions mesh perfectly with our programs and resources, the result is students like Rachel Mullin. In April, Rachel - who will be a senior this fall - was one of 62 students from 54 U.S. colleges and universities to be named a 2013 Truman Scholar.

Rachel says she learned about the Truman Scholarship Foundation as a junior in high school. So when she visited Saint Ben's as a prospective student, she sat down to talk about it with Dr. Richard White who, at the time, was the director of the honors program. She wanted to discuss how she could go about becoming a Truman Scholar here. That is a motivated young woman with a clear vision of her future. That is a Bennie. The world needs more of that.

Rachel's scholarship is a prestigious honor for her and for the college, and we're very proud of her. But she's not alone. All over campus, Bennies are pushing boundaries and shedding stereotypes.

One area where that's happening in very visible ways is the critical STEM fields of science, technology and mathematics. Nicole Kessler, from the class of 2008, for example, was an applied physics major with a math minor. After her sophomore year, she was one of the first participants in the Summer Science Research Exchange Program in China. After her junior year she did research at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center regarding heavy water on Venus. After graduating from Saint Ben's, Nicole went to work at NASA's Johnson Space Center as a flight controller for the International Space Station Program. Right now she's in India participating in a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary summer school on sustainable infrastructure and sustainable cities, funded by the National Science Foundation.

There are more Nicoles out there. Our MapCores program is pushing them, nurturing them and guiding them into math and science fields right now. MapCores - that's mathematics, physics and computer science research scholars - is a special opportunity for women. The intent is to improve access for women in these traditionally male-dominated fields. Students who are accepted into the program can receive a scholarship of $20,000 per year, thanks to the National Science Foundation, which is renewable up to four years. Women in the program go through a curriculum that includes a special research or problem-solving seminar each year.

Clearly, we are attracting top student talent. And they are becoming Bennies of whom we can all be proud. But how are we drawing these young women of potential? What makes Saint Ben's an attractive option?

Today, College of Saint Benedict is...

  • A tier 1, top 100 liberal arts college.
  • A member of Phi Beta Kappa.
  • One of the nation's top-ranked colleges for women.
  • The nation's only Benedictine college for women.
  • For three consecutive years we have been named - with distinction - to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. (That's the President of the United States.) This recognizes colleges who integrate service learning into their curriculum and have made measurable impact in the broader community.

Saint Ben's is on the forefront of sustainability. And that's attractive to intelligent young women with an eye toward tomorrow. We have signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, promising to incorporate sustainability into all facets of campus life. We were the first college in Minnesota, and one of nine in the United States, to implement a water bottle policy which eliminates the sale and purchase of plain, plastic bottled water on campus. And we've gone "trayless" in the Gorecki Center. Our Centennial Commons is the first student housing in Minnesota to receive LEED Homes Platinum Certification. We take our sustainability efforts seriously to ensure that Saint Ben's will be here for centuries to come.

  • We were also recently awarded the prestigious Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization from the Association of International Educators, for outstanding and innovative achievements in campus internationalization with our partner Saint John's University. Out of 4,700 eligible colleges and universities, we are one of only five institutions to receive the honor. It is the highest award in international education.

All this from such humble beginnings in just 100 years.

It begs the question: What's possible in the next century?

Looking forward, I see a brilliant future of unparalleled opportunity for Saint Ben's women - on campus and throughout the world. We must continue to pave the way for our next 100 years.

We're starting down that road into the next century by pursuing priorities that will lay the foundation. A new academic building can serve as a gateway to our campus for the next hundred years while it houses four key departments for CSB and SJU: psychology, economics, computer science and mathematics.

We will seek to fund increased scholarships to talented and deserving students who couldn't otherwise attend Saint Ben's. We'll create interdisciplinary academic centers focused on faculty mentoring and scholarly activity. And we will complete the first phase of renovations toward a world-class athletic and fitness complex that nurtures the body as well as the mind and spirit.

The sisters set us on this course. But this next century is our turn. It's up to you and to Bennies everywhere to become the "sisters for the next century." And we're going to approach the future with the same big, audacious spirit that drove our foremothers. Every student at the College of Saint Benedict, today and forever, stands tall on the shoulders of those who have come before her. Together there's no telling what heights we can reach.

Sic luceat lux vestra. Let your light shine. As alumnae of this college, you have each taken your light into the world and oh, have you let it shine -in lab rooms and board rooms and family rooms around the world. Your light is a powerful thing.

But when we gather together we can shine our collective light on the future. The brilliance of our aggregated light can put doubt and uncertainty on the run and build a beacon to welcome the next generation.

Your light is a vibrant, illuminating glow. The world needs more light like that.

The world needs more Bennies.