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Blueprint for Progress: Strategic Priorities Drive New Initiatives

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Students who enroll at St. John’s have a wide variety of reasons for choosing to earn their degrees at a leading Catholic and Vincentian University. Whatever their aspirations, however, they share a common expectation—that of an academically engaging and supportive environment to ensure their success.

Fulfilling that expectation is the goal of the Strategic Priorities Review Team (SPRT). Established in January 2016, SPRT monitors and evaluates the progress of action items outlined in the Strategic Priorities Action Plan—a dynamic document based on St. John’s four strategic priorities, which Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President, announced at his 2014 investiture address.

“SPRT formally kicked things off at a retreat in early 2016,” said Gina Florio, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry and Physics and Chairperson of SPRT. “We worked feverishly and tirelessly to understand what everyone in the institution was doing around each of the four strategic priorities. After drilling down a little deeper, we were able to develop a baseline assessment of institutional actions and progress.”

Throughout the winter and spring, four SPRT subteams (one per strategic priority) worked to develop subreports on their findings. Based on that report, members of the President’s Advisory Council (PAC), the Academic and Administrative Assembly (AAA), and SPRT spent their summer individually assessing the Action Plan’s implementation.

Dr. Florio and SPRT Vice-Chair Brian Browne (Assistant Vice President for Government Relations and Executive Director for University Relations) as well as other SPRT leaders, identified areas in the report that required attention. The team shared the report with PAC, AAA, and SPRT at the Third Annual President’s Retreat in August, where they used real-time polling technology to further assess priorities.

The team’s top 10 recommendations now serve as St. John’s blueprint for many of the University’s initiatives in the 2016–17 academic year.

“Ultimately, everything the group does circles back to the four strategic priorities,” said Dr. Florio, who is impressed with the level of involvement across the University. “Everybody here is committed to the priorities. Sometimes people interpret them in their own way—and that’s okay—because it still means they’re going to try to implement those strategies in the classroom, in the office, or in meetings.”

Tangible evidence that SPRT is making progress is apparent in every corner of campus. On the second floor of St. Augustine Hall, for example, spacious, high-tech offices, lounges, and other facilities for the College of Professional Studies have been constructed. In addition, the comprehensive overhaul of Bent Hall—home of The Peter J. Tobin College of Business—is slated for completion in 2017.

Students already are benefiting from improvements to the Montgoris Hall cafeteria, DaSilva and Hollis Halls, and the Residence Village basketball court. In the classroom, technology-driven upgrades have been made in 74 classrooms. Moreover, three new deans and a total of 71 new faculty members were hired in 2015 and 2016.

According to Dr. Florio, all these improvements have made a measurable impact on the most important of the strategic priorities—ensuring student success. “The most significant accomplishment thus far is the five-point rise in the retention rate of freshmen over two years while maintaining our institutional commitment to provide access to affordable, high-quality, Catholic education,” she said. “That is huge.”

The team expects to continue its cycle of assessment and reassessment, adding new initiatives to the University’s priorities and, at times, replacing action items that have been completed. “With St. John’s 150th anniversary on the horizon,” Dr. Florio said, “I think we have an amazing opportunity to make sure that we are making this institution even better for the next generation of students.”