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From President Scott R. Pilarz, S.J.

Based on the pattern set by Jesuit institutions in places such as St. Louis, Boston and Washington, D.C., Marquette easily could have been named Milwaukee University or Tory Hill University. Instead, it’s named after one of the greatest explorers and risk-takers in Jesuit history, Father Jacques Marquette. I’m certain that is not a coincidence.

Although he could have taken a post teaching Latin amid the civilized comforts of 17th-century France, Father Marquette set sail for a vast new world, plunged himself into the languages and customs of its native people, and, sometimes even without seeking the permission of his superiors, explored its uncharted reaches by canoe.

Time and again, Marquette University has shown a similar explorer’s spirit in reaching beyond what is comfortable and familiar to pursue its mission. In 1909, it became the first Catholic university in the world to admit women students as educational partners. In the late 1960s, it established the Educational Opportunity Program to support first-generation college students. That program became a national model and led to the establishment of the federally funded Council on Opportunity in Education.

In fact, during its history, when the world called with needs for new professional fields of study  engineering, business, dentistry, nursing, journalism and physical therapy  Marquette was often the first American Jesuit university to incorporate these disciplines into its course offerings. In doing so, it grew from a tiny college serving the Milwaukee Archdiocese into a national university pursuing excellence across a very broad range of disciplines.

What are we to learn from this history of crossing new boundaries? Well, a good starting point is the realization that a drive to explore and innovate must define this university’s present every bit as much as its past. With our world changing faster than at any point in our 132-year history, Marquette won’t build on its excellence  or succeed in its mission of preparing students to lead amid the complexity they encounter  unless we identify what’s around the next corner, what next great step we must take.

That is why I am so enthusiastic about the response of the Marquette community to the strategic planning process in which we are engaging this academic year. To develop a plan that helps us set sound university-wide priorities for the next 710 years, we are insisting on an open and inclusive process that began with 17 listening sessions across campus and has since been guided by a coordinating committee composed of faculty and staff.

Through these discussions, the community affirmed the mission of Marquette  the transformative Catholic and Jesuit education that we always have been and always will be about. Moving that mission forward is an awesome responsibility, but in doing so we are doing what those entrusted with Jesuit institutions have always done: “Reading the signs of the times” asking “what is Marquette’s reality right now and how do we respond to that reality?” The phrase “reading the signs of the times” is deeply rooted in Jesuit spirituality. It was Ignatius’ vision for how he would shape the mission of the Society of Jesus and his road map for us: Discern the world’s greatest needs, and determine how best to respond to them, given our talents and resources.

I am pleased to share with you that a clear  and inspiring  vision for Marquette is emerging through our collective work on this plan. Weighing all that we have heard, we have worked to distill and articulate this vision. We created a video so you can hear directly about its key elements, including the urgent way our community must collaborate and innovate to ensure that our students are ready to assume lives as agents for change and problem-solvers in a world of growing complexity.

Expect to hear more about this important planning project, both here in the pages of Marquette Magazine and via other communication as the university community embarks on next steps, such as the formation of clear goals and the preparation of a draft plan for review by the Board of Trustees in May, followed by a formal release of the plan in the fall. Like Father Marquette before us, we are guided by faith, our imaginations fired by the prospects of the new world that awaits us around the next bend, as long as we are ready to reach for it.

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