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Susquehanna President Touts Graduation Rate

By Jaime North
The Daily Item
Nov. 19, 2006

SELINSGROVE — When Jay Lemons first stepped foot on the campus of Susquehanna University, he knew that he had found a home.

The quaint Selinsgrove borough, friendly faculty and a student population bound with energy were all factors in making Susquehanna the perfect fit for the Nebraska native to become the school's president.

Since coming to the university in February 2001, Mr. Lemons has overseen unprecedented growth with student population, curriculum offerings and campus infrastructure.

Dr. Lemons, who predicts even more growth and advancement for Susquehanna, recently sat down with The Daily Item to discuss the coming spring semester and the future of the university.

Q:  In your five-plus years, the student enrollment has grown to nearly 2,000 students — a record enrollment for the university. In your opinion, what has made Susquehanna a targeted institution for students? What are some of the goals you have in mind to further enhance its appeal?

A:  Susquehanna University, we believe, is on the short list of an awful lot of students because of a valuable comprehensive look at the undergraduate educational experience. The faculty here are passionate about the role that they play in mentoring students and in trying to maximize the learning students will do during their four years here. Learning takes place outside the classroom in very meaningful ways. Whether it's at the laboratory, library or lunch room, there is powerful learning taking place not only in those settings, but so too on the performance stage, in choral groups, in clubs and organizations, on the athletic fields and in residence halls. All of these are important educational venues.

Susquehanna is well known and celebrated about having an extraordinarily beautiful campus. That is one of the characteristics that I will hear students describe to me with regularity about what attracted them to this place. I think, as well, you have to imagine that the success we have had with our students is a really important part of why Susquehanna has been an attractive institution over the course of the last decade or two. In that regard, we are very proud of the fact more than 80 percent of the students who begin here will finish here. That's an anomaly in American higher education. Susquehanna ranked 10th in regard to predicted graduation rate in (a recent) U.S. News & World Report among national liberal arts colleges. Our success in that regard, we believe, is an important reason that we have been an attractive institution.

When I think about the longer haul, we anticipate some modest continued enrollment growth. That, in part, reflects a belief that the growth can be beneficial to the education experience to the students that we have. It increases the depth we have in our academic disciplines, when we grow, we will bring with that growth a similar commitment in terms of maintaining the intimacy that is at the heart of a Susquehanna education. As well, we will work hard at maintaining a culture of a small, intimate community, where people care about one another and there is a robust friendliness about the culture of the campus.

Q:  Susquehanna University recently announced the launch of its "Changing Lives, Building Futures" campaign, which aims to strengthen the learning environment for students. Could you explain the campaign and highlight some of its priorities?

A:  We are very excited about launching our campaign effort. Frankly, that's what Susquehanna is all about. It's about changing students' lives in a positive way and helping them to build futures for themselves, for their families and for their community. We believe that the campaign theme really captures what we have done best from the very beginning at Susquehanna. The campaign itself involves a fundraising goal of about $70 million. The most important and largest project will be the construction of a new science building. It really is a campaign designed to help celebrate the life-changing aspects of a Susquehanna education. We believe there is role for everyone in the Susquehanna University family to play. We believe that folks can make gifts of all sizes and all types. To be sure, there are monetary goals. We need to raise the funds necessary to help build a new science building and related academic facilities. Those two projects alone are in the neighborhood of up to $45 million in total costs. Additionally, we will do some new residence hall construction during the course of the next several years beginning perhaps as early as next fall, when we anticipate record enrollment in the range of 1,950 students.

Q:  Each year, Susquehanna University brings a wide array of distinguished guests to campus for public lectures and classroom visits. How does the scholarly series impact the learning environment at Susquehanna? Who are some of the prominent figures invited to campus this year?

A:  We believe that bringing distinguished guests to the campus community is an important way of bringing the resources of the world to Susquehanna. Susquehanna and our sister institutions, such as Bucknell University and Bloomsburg University, and other institutions like Geisinger (Health System) have a critical role to play in making this a cosmopolitan part of the world. Bringing the resources of the world to our community is bringing an expertise to the community.

Each year, we are blessed to have a distinguished group of guests come to our campus. This fall, building upon a theme adopted by the faculty "On the Fringes", our freshman students were expected to read a book by Eric Schlosser titled "Reefer Madness" that really sought to understand and examine a number of black-market economies in our country. His visit was one of the early fall highlights. We are also delighted that Bill Strickland, who is one of the nation's most innovative not-for-profit executives, will be with us.

Q:  Last year, Susquehanna University broke ground for the Douglas E. Arthur Plaza, which will honor members of the Susquehanna Society. As this project was recently completed, what are some of the other highlighted building projects planned for the future?

A:  We will undertake the largest capital project in the institution's history by about two or three fold. We will be build nearly 90,000 gross square feet of new academic facilities. We have a new science building located across Seibert Hall. In addition, we will do renovation of the existing Fisher Science Building. We know that those projects will be very important for Susquehanna to be competitive and vibrant into the next 20 to 25 years. In addition, we will be doing construction of 90 additional beds for student housing. We hope this will help us to reduce the number of students who come to us and must live in what we call tripled-housing arrangements during the course of their first year. This will also accommodate the enrollment growth that is planned.

We are continually working to maintain and beautify this wonderful campus park-like environment. We will continue to try and integrate our buildings in ways that are consistent with the hallmarks of the beauty of our campus.

Q:  As with any higher education institution, student safety is among the key priorities. How do you view the publicized reports of underage drinking and sexual assault involving Susquehanna students in recent years? What are some of the initiatives in place designed to curb the behavior associated with those types of incidents? As president, what is the message you would like to emphasize to students in relation to student safety and behavior, on and off campus?

A:  Susquehanna is a community in our own right defined by 2,500 people who live, learn and work on this campus every day. The vast majority of those are persons who are aged 18 to 21 or 22. I think about this fundamentally as a learning environment. Those 18- and 19-year-olds are living away from home for the first time. We know that young people engage in high-risk behaviors from time to time. Susquehanna has really sought to address honestly and directly the hardships our students face both on and off campus. We have been very vigilant about seeking to help students understand the nature of this community and its values. We continue to try and help students to learn from the mistakes that they may make from time-to-time, and hold them accountable and responsible for their behavior.

In reality, the university has done a number of things, including redoubling its effort in educational programs and in creating new academic and social experiences for students, as they become members of the Susquehanna family during their first year. We're helping to provide a wide range of programming that takes place on the campus. The development of our new social place called TRAX has been one example of our trying to responsibly provide students an environment that will help to meet their desire to gather as young people do and to enjoy themselves in a safe and educationally responsible environment. There is little question, and this is not new, that a national 21-year-old drinking law provides a very challenging context for college students and college student administrators. Susquehanna has sought to work hard with local authorities in finding the right balance, and hoping that our students will be engaged in healthy activities and yet finding the right way to help them to learn from those occasions when they may have not made the best judgments.

Safety and security are always top priorities here and at other campuses. We do try to balance safety and security with the need for young people to grow into independent adults. We want our campus to be as widely accessible as it can be and to be an environment where people enjoy unusual freedoms.

Q:  What you would like to express to the public, student population, parents and alumni in regard to your continuing goals as president of Susquehanna University?

A:  Susquehanna is a great place. I first spent considerable time on the campus six falls ago. I arrived with a healthy respect for Susquehanna, its academic reputation, the quality of faculty and the beauty of its campus. I can tell you that six years later that the admiration I have for our faculty, our staff and for the work that they do for our students is even higher. There is a great deal of excitement about what the future will hold for Susquehanna. I know without question that the best that Susquehanna has been will be eclipsed when I have the privilege of knowing the distinguished young people, who we have graduated during the time I have been here, and know what they will do in the wider world.

Susquehanna has made a difference in so many people's lives, and it will continue to have a broader impact on our region, community, and on our nation. It's a great privilege to be a part of such an outstanding academic community.

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