"Why Madison?" Charlotte
President's Journal —
Home of Steve and Dee Dee Leeolou, Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 5, 2012
As usual, a great turnout from engaged Charlotte area alumni
Tonight we're here in Charlotte, N.C., at the home of Steve and Dee Dee Leeolou ('78), who are fantastic supporters of JMU. They have been very involved with the alumni office and, of course, the Leeolou Alumni Center on campus is named in their honor. Their holiday party here in Charlotte is an annual one and it's one to which they invite JMU alumni from the area. One of the great things about this chapter is that they get terrific turnout. They have a very healthy percentage of alumni in the area who come to events and who are involved and engaged. The Leeolous' home is a beautiful setting, so it's a real treat for us to be here tonight for the "Why Madison?" Listening Tour and to celebrate the holidays at the same time.
JMU was founded on teacher preparation and it remains a signature strength
I was so glad that the issue of teacher preparation came up tonight, because when we talk about "Why Madison?" we talk about building on our strengths and our history—of where we've been and then where we can go from here. When we think about teacher preparation, that goes right to the heart of our history; that's why JMU was founded, that was its original strength. We've grown and we've changed in a lot of ways, but teacher preparation is still very much a signature strength of JMU. We provide some of the very best teachers across the state of Virginia and across the country as well. As we think about how we prepare teachers in the 21st century, we want to prepare teachers who will be on the cutting edge of whatever they're teaching—whether it's in elementary school or math and science in our high schools, for example.
Teaching is one of the great gifts Madison offers the state and nation
We know our country sorely needs the kind of leadership that JMU provides—so our teachers don't just learn the subject matter and the content, but they also learn how to teach effectively. JMU is a national leader in thinking about pedagogy and the different techniques of teaching. Students learn from some of the very best at JMU and they get that hands-on experience in multiple classroom settings around Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, and throughout the Shenandoah Valley and other places around the state. We're preparing 21st-century teachers who understand diversity in the classrooms and how to work with students who come from different backgrounds. That's one of the great gifts I think that Madison can provide to our state and our nation.
We need to celebrate the impact that JMU teachers have on people's lives
I've heard time and time again from people who've become interested in JMU because of a teacher with whom they interacted; I've been in school districts, including right in Harrisonburg and other places nearby where the Teacher of the Year was a JMU alum—and there are a lot of them out there. So we need to celebrate that and to remember that we make an impact on future generations by producing those teachers. Doing so is a real core strength of JMU and one that we want to continue to build on. The seeds planted by good teachers can bear fruit in the lives of many people.
Madison's leadership opportunities give students a distinct advantage
Tonight the point came up that the high-quality student experience is more than what happens inside and outside the classroom; it's more than a well-rounded experience. JMU provides leadership development and teamwork experience in many contexts. There are student organizations that provide leadership and teamwork opportunities; classes in leadership development; classes in which students work in teams; and programs in leadership development. Last night I was at the holiday tree lighting and it was a great example of an event that the students put together and organized. Those are the types of opportunities that give students real-world experience in leadership and building teams and accomplishing tasks within deadlines. We have heard along the listening tour from alumni and from employers who see these skills in our students because these students have had opportunities at JMU that are not offered at other universities. There are many events and activities that are student-run and student-led at Madison and from which we all benefit.
Diversity on campus prepares students to collaborate with an array of individuals
I was glad to hear someone raise tonight one of the areas that is a challenge and growth opportunity for us, and that is the diversity of our campus—including the student body, faculty and staff. It's an issue on which we have focused in recent years and we've certainly made some strides and important progress in some ways, but there's still a long way to go. When we think about diversity, first of all we're talking about all different forms and facets of diversity. It's not just about race and gender, but also individuals with different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, first-generation students who are going to college, individuals with disabilities, veterans who are returning and going to college, geographical differences, and different skills and talents (among many other facets). The array is very broad. Diversity enriches our educational environment, and all students benefit. They are prepared to compete in a diverse world and collaborate with an array of individuals to accomplish great things together.
A JMU task force will study both student and faculty/staff diversity
To build on that strength, one of the things that I have asked for this semester is a diversity task force that will look both at student body diversity and and also separately at faculty and staff diversity, initiatives and programs. My hope is that this task force will take a broad look to say, "Let's look at the things that we've already done that might want to be continued or that we might want to augment, but then also let's take a step back and say, what are some new initiatives and ideas and best practices as we look nationally that might step up our efforts to take them to the next level." Access and diversity have been passions of mine in higher education for many years; I've devoted a lot of my career to these types of initiatives, so I'm really looking forward to working with that task force and to thinking about what we can do to step up our efforts in that area.
Alumni can be an important resource as we make Madison family more inclusive
Access and diversity are examples of areas in which our alumni could be an important resource for us. Like all alumni, alumni who have successfully come to JMU from diverse backgrounds are great ambassadors for us and great spokespersons in interacting with prospective students, and their parents and families. We need to be intentional about figuring out how to plug our alumni into those efforts as we think about what we can do better in the future to make our Madison family as inclusive as possible.
Listening tour visits around the country have served as terrific reality checks
These "Why Madison?" Listening Tour stops have been terrific reality checks for us. It's always interesting when those of us on campus think that, of course, everybody knows what's happening at JMU. But, as we heard tonight, the reality is that alumni are busy with their day-to-day lives and they're not focused on all of the exciting things happening on campus. So we need to find ways to communicate what we're doing, the new programs and initiatives, things that are happening on campus of which they should be proud, and of which they should be aware as they talk to other people about JMU and the JMU of today and tomorrow. So as we heard suggested tonight, we need to come up with some talking points that would help people learn and talk about the highlights of what we're doing at JMU academically and in all the other areas of university life. We will need to be thinking about how we can communicate that out to our alumni in a way that's easy to digest and easy then for them to share with others. We will certainly be talking about that internally.
Alumni should put on the purple and raise Madison's visibility
Another alum raised a simple but important point tonight. They said, "Look, you on campus see other people wearing their school colors all the time, but you don't see as much down here in North Carolina of the JMU purple and gold." Well, wearing purple is certainly something about which we can spread the word. It is a great way to advertise the institution, and to get people talking about JMU. When I have worn JMU gear around the country at different events and different venues (such as in airports), people will come up and ask me, "Do you have a child who goes to JMU?" Or, "What's your connection to the university?" And it's been a wonderful way to break the ice and to engage in conversation with people whom you wouldn't have otherwise met. You can immediately develop bonds, friendships and relationships that way. It's a wonderful way to get the word out about JMU all around the country. I think we should be very deliberate in encouraging people to don their JMU spirit wear whenever and wherever they can.