President Gempesaw at Podium

State of the University Address

Every year, members of the St. John’s community are invited to the annual State of the University Address where President Gempesaw reviews the accomplishments of the past year and our initiatives and plans to support our strategic priorities as we begin a new academic year.

For more information, contact the Office of University Events at 718-990-6365; [email protected].


Speaking to an audience of students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, members of the Vincentian community, and members of the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, Dr. Gempesaw delivered his fifth State of the University Address, setting high expectations for the University in the future.

“I state with confidence,” he said, “that St. John’s is a much stronger University than it was five years ago.”

The address, presented from Marillac Auditorium on the University’s Queens, NY, campus and streamed online, focused on the theme “Advancing Mission, Strategic Priorities, and Change.”

“When I started the State of the University Address five years ago, my goal for making this an annual event was to promote an atmosphere of open communication, collaborative leadership, and shared responsibility,” Dr. Gempesaw said in his opening remarks.

Over the next hour, the President celebrated the University’s recent accomplishments, acknowledged its challenges, and provided a roadmap for continued success.

This semester, he announced, St. John’s enrolled a class of first-year students of approximately 3,110, which stands as the largest of any Catholic college or university in the nation. For many local Catholic high schools, he added, St. John’s is the number one destination for graduating seniors. The incoming class hails from 33 countries and 40 states (plus Washington, DC).

With a mean grade point average (GPA) of 90, the Class of 2023 excelled in the classroom and matched the record-high GPA set in 2015. This gifted group also had an average SAT score of approximately 1200—the highest for an incoming class since the SAT returned to a 1600-point scale in 2016.

The class also includes nine valedictorians and eight salutatorians, and more than 450 students are enrolled in St. John’s Honors Programs

This year, the University has a total enrollment of approximately 21,300, an increase of 852 students over 2014. In 2018, Dr. Gempesaw noted, the University achieved the highest total enrollment in its 149-year history with 21,643 students.

“I always emphasize that student retention and graduation must be our priority and should be our shared responsibility,” he said. “From 2003 to 2013, the average retention rate dropped to 78.1 percent. From 2014 to 2018, we improved average retention rates to 82.7 percent. This means that an additional 130 to 140 students were retained annually and will hopefully graduate in four to six years.”

“This is, indeed, remarkable,” he said.

“We must sustain what we started five years ago and continue to support the success of our students—because that is what excellent universities do.”

St. John’s graduates succeed after college. Since 2016, 94.3 percent of students who graduate from the University are either employed or enrolled in graduate school, up from 86 percent in 2011. Students who earned a graduate degree in 2018 have a 94 percent career placement rate, while last year, St. John’s School of Law recorded its highest-ever employment rate—92 percent.

Dr. Gempesaw introduced Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M., Executive Vice President for Mission, who discussed new initiatives for the University to address the issue of college students who experience housing insecurity and homelessness.

“The issue of college student homeless and housing insecurity is becoming less of a hidden issue and is more commonly discussed as a national crisis for higher education,” Fr. Tracey said. Citing a 2018 survey of City University of New York students, he noted that “almost one in two students experienced food insecurity and 55 percent were housing insecure in the previous year.”

While St. John’s addresses the basic needs of many of these students, the University wants to offer a more robust program. Responding to that need, he announced plans for Depaul USA to establish the Dax Program: New York.

Through the Dax Program, qualified students pay a minimum rent of $150 per month and work 10 hours per week in exchange for housing, food, case management, counseling referrals, transportation, and textbook assistance. Upon graduation, a three-month extension helps to ensure a smooth transition into the workforce and marketrate housing.

“We know that when the basic needs of our students are met, they have a greater likelihood of achieving academic success,” Fr. Tracey noted.

“As a Catholic and Vincentian university, we are obligated and remain committed to finding new and innovative ways to ensure that all of our students succeed.”

Returning to the podium, Dr. Gempesaw highlighted the exceptional work of several faculty members and offered an update on hiring trends.

“Since Fiscal Year 2015, we have hired 222 new faculty members,” he said. “This fall semester, we welcome 32 new faculty. Next year, the Office of the Provost has approved the hiring of 31 new faculty members.” Among this year’s incoming faculty, 55 percent are female, and 42 percent are from historically underrepresented populations in higher education.

The University’s Strategic Priorities, he noted, include enhancing the teaching and learning environment. This past year, Campus Facilities and Services completed more than 60 projects, including renovations to the first and second floor classrooms and hallways of Marillac Hall; renovations and repairs to labs in St. Albert Hall; upgrades to The Little Theatre A/V systems; and several improvements in the Residence Village and Carnesecca Arena. In addition, Marillac Hall now features an advanced graphics lab, which will include advanced Virtual Reality technology.

The University continues to expand its global and community partnerships. In Fiscal Year 2019, the President announced, cash gifts to the University totaled $25.9 million. “This is the second-highest fundraising amount in our University’s history, following our record cash gifts of $27 million in Fiscal Year 2018.”

“We thank our generous donors for their strong belief in our mission,” he said, “and their confidence that our University is moving in the right direction.”

In closing, Dr. Gempesaw offered thanks to the entire University community. “I am sincerely grateful to all of you for your efforts and your commitment to strengthening the foundation of our University,” he said. “With your support and cooperation, I am confident that we will continue to meet the mission set by our Vincentian founders 149 years ago: to provide an excellent education for all people, especially those in need—because we are St. John’s!”

Before an audience of students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, and members of the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, delivered his fourth annual State of the University Address, setting an upbeat and positive tone as he outlined his vision for the University for the 2018–19 academic year and beyond.

“Let me say it clearly,” he said, “the state of St. John’s University is strong, stable, and remains true to its mission as a Catholic and Vincentian University.”

The address, which focused on the theme, “Building a Culture of Inclusion, Partnership, and Change,” was delivered from Marillac Hall Auditorium on the Queens, NY, campus, and streamed online.

Dr. Gempesaw highlighted the accomplishments of the University over the past year, announced new initiatives, and articulated his vision for the future of St. John’s as the University approaches its 150th anniversary in the year 2020.

Citing new and unprecedented challenges in higher education, the President said, “We at St. John’s must strive to be proactive in our response to this rapidly evolving higher education environment.”

The President announced that the University enrolled a first-year class of approximately 3,100 students this fall—the largest of any Catholic college or university in the nation. For many local Catholic high schools, he indicated, St. John’s is the number one destination for graduating seniors.

The Class of 2022 is an academically gifted one, with a mean SAT score of approximately 1175—the highest in three years—and an average grade point average of 90. “This year’s class also includes 13 valedictorians and eight salutatorians,” the President said. 

In addition to being well prepared from an academic standpoint, the class is diverse, and it hails from 55 countries, 37 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. “Our University already mirrors the demographics of New York City,” he said, “and what America increasingly will be in the future.”

Retention and graduation of students should be the University’s priority and shared responsibility, Dr. Gempesaw noted, adding that over the past four years St. John’s retention rate improved to close to 83 percent, a 4.6 percentage point increase from previous years. “This means an additional 130–140 students are retained annually and hopefully they will graduate in 4–6 years,” observed Dr. Gempesaw.

“I challenge all of us, as members of the St. John’s community, to make every effort to help retain and graduate our students,” he said.

The career placement rate—the percentage of graduates who are either employed or pursuing a graduate degree six months after graduation—is also indicative of student success. In 2017, St. John’s graduating class posted a rate of 94.3 percent, up from 86.2 percent in 2011.

Dr. Gempesaw introduced Nada M. Llewellyn, Esq., Chief Diversity Officer, Associate Vice President for the Office of Human Resources, and Deputy General Counsel, who provided an update on the Office of Equity and Inclusion, which was created during the summer of 2018. The new office will promote an academically enriching and supportive climate that allows all members of the community to thrive and succeed.

Ms. Llewellyn acknowledged that while the University cannot control what takes place beyond the gates of St. John’s, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that students feel welcome on campus. “What we can do,” she said, “is create a campus community that examines itself and actively counters social injustices in an ongoing way.”

The Inclusivity Resource Center, she announced, will open in late September as a space for “authentic and informed” student dialogue. She also highlighted several other initiatives of the new office, including the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion, which will promote inclusive teaching and learning.

Dr. Gempesaw noted that exceptional faculty ensure the success of St. John’s students. “Since fall of 2014, we have hired 182 new faculty members,” he said. “This coming year, we plan to hire 38 more.” Of the 43 new faculty hired in 2018, 60 percent were female, and over 50 percent were people from historically underrepresented populations in higher education.

The President also gave updates on new laboratories and technology upgrades on campus, including the new Media Arts & Design Lab, which will support programs in digital media, animation, art and design, advertising, and journalism, and the Technology Commons, which will focus on eSports, virtual reality technology, and 3D printing.

Support for St. John’s continues to expand. “The generosity of our alumni and friends and benefactors is a defining characteristic of the St. John’s community,” he said. “During this past year, gifts to the University totaled more than $27 million, an increase of $5 million over the previous year and a record amount for the University.” The President also previewed a major gift to the School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science—the largest single gift given to the University.

Dr. Gempesaw closed the address by thanking the University community for its enduring commitment and dedication.

“I can assure all of you that together we will continue to meet the mission set by our founders 148 years ago to provide an excellent education for all people, especially those most in need,” he said. “Because, we are St. John’s.” 


In his third annual State of the University Address on September 6, President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., shared with the St. John’s community highlights from the past year that reflect the University’s continuing success at enhancing the educational experience for all its students.

Dr. Gempesaw spoke to students, faculty, staff, and alumni in the newly renovated Marillac Hall Auditorium on the Queens, NY, campus. The University community also was able to view the event via online streaming video.

The theme of the address, “Accelerating the Momentum for Change,” reflected the University’s advances to date and plans for the future.

“We have established momentum during the last three years,” Dr. Gempesaw told the University community, “because of your hard work and commitment to our strategic priorities.”

This fall, the University enrolled a first-year class of more than 2,950 students—nearly a third coming from Catholic high schools. This was the largest entering first-year class of any Catholic college or university in the nation.

In addition, this year’s class of first-year students is an academically gifted one, with an average SAT score of approximately 1150, an ACT average of 25, and a GPA of 90.

“St. John’s has had a remarkable record of providing access to higher education for young women and men who might not otherwise be able to afford college,” he said during his address. “However, it is not enough that we provide student access—we must also focus on student success.”

That commitment is evidenced by the University’s recent retention rates, which have risen by over nine percent since the 2011-2012 academic year. Career placement numbers are also strong: 94.3 percent of the class of 2016 were employed or enrolled for advanced study within six months of graduation.

Outstanding professors are critical to student success, Dr. Gempesaw noted. St. John’s commitment to recruit and hire a diverse faculty is represented by the 112 new faculty members that have joined the University since 2015 and the 45 planned for fall 2018.

The President also gave updates on some of the more than 70 renovations and technology improvements across the University, including the reconstruction of spaces allocated for The Peter J. Tobin College of Business and the College of Professional Studies on the Queens campus.

Enhancements to the Tobin College of Business include the Lesley and William Collins Business Analytics Lab, the Paul and Carol Evanson Career Center, and the Valerie and Gerard Sodano Dean’s Suite.

The College of Professional Studies, located in St. Augustine Hall, now features the Homeland Security Simulation Lab—the first of its kind in the northeast. It also includes an innovation lab—a hands-on design and test space where students learn to develop new products, and the IDEA Lab, a creative space for students to produce digital and print media products.

The new Long Island Graduate Center opened in Hauppauge, NY, in late August, offering programs from The School of Education. Future plans include expanding graduate options from other St. John’s colleges. “This new graduate center will allow St. John’s to enhance its presence in Suffolk County,” Dr. Gempesaw said, “and will be the impetus for more academic and community partnerships in the state.”

St. John’s academic mission continues to benefit from the support of generous alumni and friends, the President noted. In fiscal year 2017, donations totaled more than $22 million, an increase of $1.4 million over the previous year. St. John’s also welcomed six members to The Founder’s Society—donors who have pledged more than $1 million to the University.

In closing, Dr. Gempesaw thanked the University community for its continued support. “I am sincerely grateful to all of you for your efforts to improve and strengthen our University,” he said. “Let us continue working together so we can build a much stronger foundation for future St. John’s students, employees, alumni, and friends in our community.”

Focusing on the theme of “Sustaining Change for a Better Future,” Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, reviewed the institution’s accomplishments to date and plans for continued progress in his second State of the University Address on September 7.

Faculty, staff, students, and alumni gathered for the address in Taffner Field House on the Queens, NY, campus, while more than 1,200 members of the St. John’s community watched online via streaming video during and immediately after the talk.

Dr. Gempesaw’s hour-long address highlighted the accomplishments made by the University over the past year, with particular focus on the action steps put forth by the Strategic Priorities Working Group in 2015:

  • Ensure student success
  • Recruit, recognize, and retain the best faculty, staff, and administrators
  • Enhance our teaching and learning environment
  • Expand global and community partnerships

Discussing the first strategic priority,  Dr. Gempesaw announced that this fall, St. John’s expects to enroll a freshman class of more than 3,200 students, the largest entering freshman cohort of any Catholic college or university in the United States. The class is talented as well as large, with a projected 13-point increase in the new students’ average SAT score. More importantly, the average high school GPA of the freshman class this year is estimated at 90.  Graduate enrollment is also on the rise, with an estimated 1,500 new graduate students expected to enroll this fall.

In addition, the President welcomed three new Deans to the University: Katia Passerini, Ph.D., the College of Professional Studies; Norean R. Sharpe, Ph.D., The Peter J. Tobin College of Business; and Valeda F. Dent, Ph.D., University Libraries.

“The path to academic excellence starts with outstanding faculty,” Dr. Gempesaw said. With that, he highlighted the hiring of 38 faculty in 2016 and plans to hire an additional 45 faculty in 2017.  He also presented several academic points of pride highlighting the achievements of a number of faculty members.

Noting the many recent capital improvements made to University facilities, Dr. Gempesaw reported on the updates and renovations at Montgoris, St. Augustine, and Bent Halls, as well as the campus-wide, technology-driven upgrade of 74 classrooms. “It is very important that we focus on improving the condition of our classrooms, laboratories, technology, and other teaching tools that will enhance learning,” he observed. 

Alumni confidence also continues to grow. Of the 11,369 donors to the University, more than 7,500 were alumni, including over 1,200 new donors.

Dr. Gempesaw praised St. John’s student-athletes, who continue to excel in their sports and the classroom. For example, 203 Red Storm athletes were named to the 2016 BIG EAST All-Academic Team. He also acknowledged alumni fencers Daryl Homer ’13CPS and Dagmara Wozniak ’13C, medalists at this summer’s Olympic Games.

Consistent with Vincentian values, Dr. Gempesaw asked for the support of the St. John’s community to make the campus more inclusive and welcoming to all.  “This will require all of us to be more sensitive to each other’s perspectives and beliefs,” he said, “to understand the challenges that others face, and to be willing to reach out and help bridge differences.” He will soon announce the formation of a working group to help the University move this initiative as a major strategic priority action step.

In closing, Dr. Gempesaw thanked the St. John’s community for its hard work in helping to make the University better for all. “It is with optimism and gratitude that I begin my third year as St. John’s President,” he said. “I am optimistic about the future of our University because the collective efforts we have undertaken over the past two years to move this University in the right direction have begun to yield positive results.”

“St. John’s is moving in the right direction,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., president, on September 9 as he highlighted the past year’s advances in enrollment, fundraising, and other strategic areas in his first “State of the University” address.  

Close to 900 faculty, staff, students, and alumni gathered for the address in Carnesecca Arena on the Queens, NY, campus. More than 1,000 people watched via streaming video during and immediately after the address. Dr. Gempesaw said his goal was to promote “an atmosphere of open communication, collaborative leadership, and shared responsibility.”

During the address, Dr. Gempesaw recounted achievements from the past year while outlining his vision for the future. “Sometimes it is in the winds of change that we find our true direction, and I believe we are finding ours,” he said.

In response to the escalating cost of higher education, St. John’s implemented a tuition savings initiative for this academic year. Dr. Gempesaw said, “Tuition revenue comes from the hardworking and financially needy families that our Vincentian founders challenged us to serve. We are not entitled but rather, we are entrusted with these resources—and we must be mindful of that in all we do.”

St. John’s enrolled its largest freshman class since 2008 with an estimated 3,200 students, Dr. Gempesaw noted, giving the University the largest freshman cohort of any Catholic institution in the United States.

Dr. Gempesaw also reviewed the status of four strategic priorities he introduced at his formal investiture last October: ensure student success; recruit, recognize, and retain the best faculty, staff, and administrators; enhance the teaching and learning environment; and expand global and community partnerships.

Toward that end, he created a Strategic Priorities Working Group to forge a framework for implementing these priorities and to develop an integrated plan. The group has met with administrators and staff from throughout the University to elicit their ideas on realizing those goals.

Reflecting the first priority, Dr. Gempesaw announced, five St. John’s students received prestigious Fulbright Awards this past year to study and conduct research at international sites around the globe, and a recent St. John’s graduate was chosen from among more than 600 applicants to serve as a Youth Observer to the United Nations. In addition, students from the College of Professional Studies and The Peter J. Tobin College of Business last June placed first for their marketing communications-plans book, and third overall at the American Advertising Federation National Conference. He added that, for the first time, more than 1,000 St. John’s students studied abroad.

Dr. Gempesaw noted that 29 new faculty members joined the University this fall. He also discussed current facilities upgrades that promise to enhance the teaching and learning environment at St. John’s. In addition, several programs enjoyed high rankings from U.S. News and World Report, which also listed St. John’s as the second most diverse campus in the nation.

Sharing a heartfelt note he received from a parent who had sacrificed to send her child to St. John’s, Dr. Gempesaw echoed her sentiments by saying, “A St. John’s education is worth fighting for. As your president, you have my pledge that I will work tirelessly to expand opportunities for all, and to promote excellence.”

Noting that St. John’s will celebrate its 150th anniversary in six years, Dr. Gempesaw said, “I cannot face the winds of change alone…so I ask for your help, your commitment, your passion, your support, in moving this University in the right direction.”