The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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President Gempesaw State of the University Address


With the start of a new academic year, President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw emphasized the importance of student success by introducing his strategic plans to recruit, retain and support Johnnies during the State of the University Address.

On Sept. 7, President Gempesaw conducted his second annual address at Taffner Field House. Joining him during the hour long event where students, faculty and administrators in the Queens Campus – as well as livestreaming to the Staten Island, Paris, Rome and Seville campuses.

Historically, St. John’s has played a role in offering young men and women who might not be able to afford the cost of college the chance to obtain a higher education.

“But it is not enough to provide student access,” Gempesaw said. “We must also focus on student success.”

He said the three steps to ensure student success are to recruit and enroll the right students, to retain students by providing quality education and helping them graduate and to support them with career advisement in order to find jobs or pursue graduate education.

According to Gempesaw, the 2016-17 freshman class is at 3,200 students, only a 1.6 percent decrease from last year’s class of 3,253. However the total undergraduates enrolled for this school year rose to 11,737 compared to last year’s 11,327, an increase of 3.6 percent.

He also said that the average SAT score for this freshman class is higher than last year’s by 13 points.

However, he acknowledged that the “better predictor” of a student’s success in college is their high school GPA – which continues to be an average of 90, the same as last year’s entering class.

“St. John’s continues to have the distinction of having the largest entering freshman core of any Catholic university or college in America,” Gempesaw said.

He mentioned that graduate enrollment has also shown a steady growth since 2013.

Gempesaw then stated that last year the University’s faculty presented 10 new graduate programs to the Board of Trustees, with hopes of even more programs added in the future.

He then stated that freshman retention rates have been flat for the past 12 years. However, this year’s retention rate reached 83 percent compared to last year’s 80 percent, the highest it’s ever been since 1998.

He went on to talk about sophomore retention and how increasingly difficult it is for many students to continue their studies for reasons such as financial instabilities.

“Our largest source of annual revenue is student tuition dollars, many of these student tuition dollars come to us from the labor of hard working and financially struck families that our Vincentian founders challenged us to serve,” Gempesaw said.

He added that last year St. John’s provided $213 million in financial aid to more than 90 percent of its undergraduate and graduate students.

However, Gempesaw stated that there are limits to the financial aid the University can offer because for every dollar given to a student more must be generated by another one.

In order to support students as part of the strategic planning, Gempesaw stated that a survey conducted by the University last year found that 95 percent of graduate students obtained a job compared to 80 percent five years ago.

According to Gempesaw, the National Association of College and Employers recently recognized St. John’s University with a 2015 Member Choice Award and a Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Award.

He offered a review of the University’s strategic planning efforts, which focus on four main factors: Student success; faculty, staff and administrators; teaching and learning environment and partnerships.

The first factor discussed was student success, in which he offered his three strategic priorities.

Discussing one of the strategic priorities, Gempesaw stated that he is very committed to “doing more with less” and “right sizing” the administrative structure. To do so, he reduced salaries, personnel and other expenses by $2.5 million dollars.

He went on to state that there is a decentralized budget incentive plan to generate funds that can be used for faculty professional development and academic initiatives.

Gempesaw also announced the three new deans: Dr. Katia Passerini, Dean of College of Professional Studies; Dr. Norean Sharpe, Dean of the Tobin College of Business; and Dr. Valeda Dent, Dean of the University Libraries.

St. John’s has now hired over 71 new faculty members, creating 30 new positions since last year.

The president also discussed the many renovations the University has undergone while discussing his third priority. This includes the completion of Montgoris Hall and the completion of the first phase of St. Augustine Hall.

The University has replaced 54,000 light bulbs with LEDs in various buildings, as part of the sustainability efforts.

St. John’s has also installed more charging stations for smartphones in Marillac Hall, St. Albert’s Hall and Sullivan Hall. He also discussed discussed current construction of Tobin.

Because there is so much competition between universities, St. John’s decided to technologically upgrade 74 classrooms, based on the Learning Space Advisory Group.

Moving to the fourth strategic priority, Gempesaw stated that in this fiscal year, gifts to the University totaled over $20.6 million dollars, an increase of over $1.6 million over the last fiscal year.

The University continues to be in partnership with Kingsborough, Borough of Manhattan and Nassau Community Colleges and is in the process of working out agreements with four other community colleges and two other universities.

He also mentioned that in June, St. John’s hosted Accepted Student Day in Beijing and Shanghai, meeting with 20 high school principals and guidance counselors in order to learn more about their international programs and partnerships.

“We are pursuing the possibility of offering our hospitality management and other programs in partnership with Sanya University in China,” Gempesaw said.

Gempesaw then moved on to talk about the success of Athletics this past year, mentioning several of last year’s championship teams.

Gempesaw also discussed how this past April, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education came to visit the University for the Accreditation Review.

“Our enrollment has fluctuated over time and budgets are tight, however, steps are being pursued to address these issues and strengthen the University’s overall position,” he said. “They concluded that encouraging results are emerging and positive momentum is building at St. John’s.”

St. John’s was commended for its Academic Service Learning programs; the institution’s commitment to service, social justice and the enrichment of students from all social backgrounds.

In the University’s Academic Points of Pride, Gempesaw kept it short and only mentioned 14 out of the 55 submissions by faculty.

One of these included Andre McKenzie, of Academic Achievement, and Anna Donnelly, of Student Support Services, receiving $220,000 grants as a part of a five-year $1.1 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support nearly 200 low-income and first generation college students to enhance college completion.

He then referenced a letter he wrote to the University community in March 2016 which said, “An inclusive learning community based on mutual respect is the foundation that will honor our diversity and enhance access, equity, and success.”

Gempesaw then announced that he and Dr. Mangione, the Provost, as recommended by the Middle States Accreditation Review Team, will be introducing a new working group, directed by Nada Llewellyn, Chief Diversity Officer, in order to make this a major strategic action step.

Gempesaw concluded the State of the University Address by saying, “As an immigrant and a person of color, I can honestly tell you that I know how it feels to be different. And I am not immune to what is happening on our campus and our nation today.”

“So while the debate of diversity rages, while this debate rages on our nation at this time, we here at St. John’s, let us seize this opportunity to let the nation know that at St. John’s we celebrate our diversity because this is part of the mission started by our Vincentian founders 146 years ago: To educate the children of immigrants and especially to help those most in need,” continued Gempesaw.

Two freshmen at the event offered their views on what impacted them the most.

Tim Sullivan said, “I thought it was very interesting about the diversity and how they said that they were already talking about a partnership with another University in China.”

“It was really interesting to hear the changes that are going to be made in the future and find out how far the University has come over the many years that it’s been around,” said Mary Kenny, “It makes me proud to be a part of St. John’s.”

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About the Contributor
Angelica Acevedo
Angelica Acevedo, Editor-in-Chief
Angelica Acevedo is a senior journalism major with a minor in history. She has been involved with the Torch since her freshman year, and served as News Editor, Social Media Manager, Opinion Editor and Managing Editor in the past three years. As Editor-in-Chief, she hopes to continue to publish impactful, interesting and important stories that the St. John’s community needs to know. Angelica also hopes to grow the newspaper’s staff and contributors by creating an outreach position that will serve to reach out to students that are interested in practicing journalism and organizing workshops to keep them involved. Moreover, she wants readers to understand the work that journalists do and will advocate for more media literacy during her last year at St. John’s University. Have any questions? Email Angelica at [email protected] 
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