In an academic year kick-off punctuated with good news about enrollment, fundraising, and diversity, guest speaker Dr. Patrick Tutwiler, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education, made a request of Worcester State faculty and staff.
“The request I have of you is to run,” Dr. Tutwiler said. “We find ourselves at an interesting time. We are still wrestling with the ripple effects of the pandemic and wrestling with some important questions: Who has a seat at the table where decisions are made that impact people’s lives? Whose needs will we champion? Who will define the future? I ask you to run because it feels like the right verb that captures the urgency not just to the questions that I posed but to a myriad of challenges we are experiencing in society. It also signals progressive and intentional movement toward something.”
Tutwiler, who was appointed by Gov. Maura Healey in December 2022, shared the three-part framework developed at the Executive Office of Education to shape the state’s education budget and policy: stabilize, heal, and transform. The state, he noted, continues to face challenges in areas such as staffing and mental health if it is to stabilize and heal from the disruptions of the pandemic.
“We didn’t stop at the organizing principles of ‘stabilize’ and ‘heal.’ We aren’t trying to just get back,” he said. “Including the principle ‘transform’ was just as intentional. We are envisioning a future beyond what existed before the pandemic and working toward creating lasting change that is not limited by previous goal posts.”
A former history teacher, principal, and superintendent who came to Worcester at age 17 and earned an undergraduate degree at College of the Holy Cross, Tutwiler spoke of the personal reasons individuals choose a career in education: a goal, a person, a question.
His mother was an educator who earned a doctorate at the University of Texas. “My older brother and I watched my mother very closely. We watched my mother fight for my brother and me to ensure we received the best possible education. We watched her safeguard our potential, respectfully disagree about placements, labels even, that might have otherwise attached themselves not only to our transcripts but also to our internal view of ourselves as learners…. These experiences inform who I am as an educator, an educator who operates from a firm set of values—the core of which is love for students.”
He urged faculty and staff to remember what brought them to education.
“As a runner in your life, hold onto that reason. Think of it as a starting line when you question what you are running toward, as you will at some point. Remind yourself what got you here.”
Worcester State President Barry Maloney began the event announcing a new enrollment milestone—at the end of the add/drop period this semester, the incoming class of fall 2023 is tied with 2017’s as the largest class in university history.
“I want to say kudos to all of those who helped to make this happen,” Maloney said to applause. “I would dare say we are reversing the trend that we have seen during the pandemic…. This increase is not an accident. We have a lot of direct sweat equity put into this work.”
Along with the university’s recruitment and expanded orientation initiatives, Maloney pointed to a number of factors driving the enrollment boost: the university joining Common App, launching a new website that focuses on students, being an SAT-optional institution, offering high quality support services in counseling and academic success, and the increasing appeal of MajorPlus.
Last year, 63 percent of accepted students surveyed indicated MajorPlus was a significant factor in their decision to come to Worcester State. In the 2023 survey, 65 percent said it was an important factor, and 14 percent said it was the factor that brought them to the university.
Alongside the growth in enrollment, the university is seeing growth in the diversity of the student population, with this year’s incoming class the most diverse in the university’s history. Some 44 percent of the incoming class of 1,284 transfer and first-year students identifies as ALANA/BIPOC (African, Latine, Asian, Native American and/or Black, Indigenous, People of Color), a 22 percent increase from last year.
“Extremely exciting and extremely important for us to grasp how we foster success for these new student populations,” Maloney said.
At the same time, Maloney acknowledged the university still has work to do to improve diversity among the faculty, with 26 percent identifying as ALANA/BIPOC in 2022. “We certainly have a ways to go in making sure we have faculty to match the growth in diversity in our classrooms,” he said. “We accept that challenge.”
Among the initiatives designed to improve faculty diversity are the North Star Collective, a Massachusetts Department of Education program that offers mentorship and professional development for ALANA/BIPOC faculty. Worcester State professors Nafisa Tanjeem and Danielle Morales were selected in December 2022 for the program. In addition, the university hosted four ALANA/BIPOC graduate students from around the country for the summer as part of a new Graduate Fellows Program that is part of a Massachusetts Department of Higher Education pilot called the Welcoming, Inclusive, and Supportive Environments (WISE) Program.
“The WISE Program was remarkable in terms of exposing Worcester State to these prospective graduate students at a time when we really need to expose them not to just R1 and R2 institutions but teaching institutions like Worcester State that are viable options for these aspiring professionals,” he said.
On the financial front, Maloney highlighted the university’s balanced FY24 budget, which reflected $1.3 million in savings from short-term measures. In addition, FY23 was a record year for fundraising for Worcester State, with $12.25 million in donations and $3.3 million in grants.
“We have endured a lot over the last three years, all of us have,” Maloney said. “It’s important for us to take some time today at least quietly and maybe more vocally to acknowledge the accomplishments we have achieved during a very, very difficult time.”
Photo: Mass Secretary of Education Dr. Patrick Tutwiler fields a question from Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Henry Theriault during the academic year kickoff Sept. 27.
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