Column: Committed to a new year

File photoSalem State University President John Keenan.

The start of the school year never gets old. That smell of fall in the air is synonymous with anticipation, possibility and opportunity. One does not have to look far to find all three of those at Salem State University as the new academic year is underway.

Some of that possibility is visible in the Bertolon School of Business, with our newly installed Cabot Wealth Management Lab. Equipped with Bloomberg terminals, the lab delivers real-time information about financial markets, giving our students access to the tools used by investment professionals. This positions students for optimal success in the business world and represents an exciting advancement for one of our most popular majors.

Steps away, Marsh Dining Commons has been greatly reimagined to optimize social interaction. Further, students have returned to find that their calls for greater food variety and more accessible hours have been met. Early reports indicate that our newly-unveiled 24/7 dining services are popular.

In addition to these physical upgrades, much of the opportunity on our campus is witnessed in our classrooms and in the work of our students throughout the community.

This semester, many Salem State University students are spending time off-campus mastering their own teaching skills. Forty-six teacher-candidates from our School of Education are completing fellowships in K-12 classrooms throughout the North Shore and Greater Boston. In win-win partnerships, these students receive either stipends or tuition and fee coverage to spend an entire academic year embedded in a school system.

Ten Early Education and Care students will also be receiving paid internships through area child care centers. These collaborations demonstrate our faculty and staff’s commitment to building partnerships that benefit both our students and the greater community.

Some of our students will be missing out on a New England fall this year – that’s because they are studying abroad as part of our mission to prepare them for a global economy. Two students are spending the entire academic year in China on $10,000 Chinese Government Scholarships. Two others have received full scholarships to take STEM courses in Mexico and Costa Rica throughout the fall semester. Opportunities like these at Salem State are plentiful and growing.

Success stories abound throughout campus, whether the journey takes students across the world, to nearby grade schools, laboratories, nonprofits or elsewhere. Faculty and staff not only bring the initiative and time needed to create these opportunities, but they bring the encouragement that many students need – the voice telling students they can, and should, challenge themselves and make the most of their college experience.

With this kind of commitment, it is no wonder that our vastly increased six-year graduation rate has been sustained for the second year in a row. Last year, we received our highest graduation rate on record, of 57.5 percent. This year, we have maintained a 57 percent rate.

This marks a 20 percentage point increase in Salem State’s graduation rate over an 11-year period, with much credit owed to the work of my predecessor, President Emerita Patricia Maguire Meservey. The increase puts Salem State in the top seven percent of colleges and universities nationally for graduation rate increases.

To build on this momentum, Salem State is sharpening its focus on practices shown to drive student success. With new technology rolling out this semester, faculty and staff will have a greater ability to collaborate on identifying and addressing student needs. This advancement, along with our coaching model, demonstrates a high-touch approach to advising that recognizes the unique needs of each student.

Our success is not only visible in the numbers, but in the stories we hear from students who name the faculty and staff members that guided and encouraged them on everything from signing up for classes to conducting research, studying abroad and realizing their career aspirations.

In the first weeks of classes, such stories have already begun to be written. Further efforts are underway to ensure that we continue building on our strengths when it comes to student success. This is who Salem State University is, and always will be.

John D. Keenan is the 14th president of Salem State University.


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