Blog Higher Education

A semester of momentum

Wow!  It’s hard to believe this fall semester is already coming to a close.  I, for one, never imagined the seasons would change so quickly or the holidays would spring upon us in such a swift motion (not to mention that early layer of snowfall we received last month).  But then again, I also never imagined a semester as full of energy and momentum as this one was. 

Students arrived in scorching temperatures this August.  At that time, we welcomed an impressive cohort of new first-year students, graduate and professional students, and medical students to our Danforth and Medical campuses.  I’m particularly thrilled that 23% of our first-year students are underrepresented students of color, 15% are Pell eligible, and 9% are first-generation college students — and they came to us from all over the U.S. and 20 countries around the world.

In August, we also launched a newly redesigned first-year orientation program that ensures all students have the same orientation experience regardless of their background.  In tandem, we launched a new initiative called “Dialogue Across Difference” and welcomed Nadine Strossen to campus to reflect on her book HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship, which students read as part of our Common Reading program. 

September also brought a whirlwind of unimaginable energy and momentum.  We renamed Francis Field to Francis Olympic Field, which served to reaffirm our historic ties to the Olympics.  We also celebrated the opening of the newly expanded Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum with Ai Weiwei’s thought-provoking “Bare Life” exhibition.  And we launched the Academy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

Faculty across both our campuses were incredibly busy in September.  Collectively, they received grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Children’s Discovery Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and others for transformative research on critical areas such as mental health and black youth, breast cancer, stem cell therapy, aerosols and air pollution, space exploration, and more. 

Energy and momentum were definitely in the air in October.  Fall began to make a full appearance, while summer tried desperately to linger.  On October 2, we didn’t let the unseasonal heat stop us from dedicating the east end of the Danforth campus — a transformation that is already proving its worth for our students, faculty, and staff who now enjoy the breathtaking green spaces and the state-of-the-art facilities that aim to promote cross-disciplinary collaboration.  Just a day later, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, just in time to celebrate our WashU Momentum during the inauguration festivities. Stephanie, Olive, and I are still talking about that day, and words cannot even begin to describe how much it meant to us and how grateful we are for your support. 

The other 29 days of October were also jam-packed.  Several of you received recognition, which included early career awards; faculty tenure and staff promotions; and accolades for your ingenuity, inventions, entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to solving some of the most pressing problems facing our community, nation, and world. 

We kicked off November with Parent & Family Weekend, which was a wonderful opportunity to showcase our campus, St. Louis, and the student experience with visitors who traveled from both near and far.  Soon after, November reminded us just how quickly fall can come and go. But once again, we didn’t let the snow stop us from moving forward. Instead, we “plowed” full-steam ahead into the holiday season.  

Last month, the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences brought us the production of “for colored girls.”  The fall athletics teams also wrapped up their seasons.  The football team kicked off Larry Kindbom’s retirement with a 62-14 victory over Carroll College and a 7-3 season record.  Women’s soccer made it to the NCAA Elite Eight. Women’s volleyball made its 33rd straight program appearance in the NCAA tournament.  And women’s cross country placed second in the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships while the men placed fourth.  Amazing!  #LetsGoWashU

While December has just begun — it, too, promises to be a momentous month.  Our students are either taking or diligently preparing for exams and end-of-semester projects.  Hundreds of graduating students will soon participate in our December Recognition Ceremony.  Many of our faculty, staff, and students are using this season of giving to participate in service projects throughout the community.  And holiday and end-of-year celebrations are filling up our calendars.  All the while, you continue to keep your eye on our WashU mission and our aspirations to be a place of greater academic distinction, increased educational access, and strong connection “in St. Louis and for St. Louis.”  

Whether you’re a colleague helping recruit our talented students or raising funds to support our daily operations; a member of dining services helping us experience a greater sense of community and connection; a faculty member engaged in humanistic and creative work; an inventor exploring new ways to bring your research to the marketplace; or a student pursuing your myriad passions — every single one of you has accomplished a great deal this semester.  And you have a lot to be proud of.  

With one semester now under my belt as WashU’s 15th Chancellor, I’m also proud of all we’ve accomplished, and look forward to seeing all we’ll continue to do as we increase our momentum and bolster the strong legacy upon which this university was built.  Thank you, as always, for all you do to support our efforts and the ways in which you embody our mission to improve lives in service of the greater good.  WashU is a well-positioned and distinctive place because of you.  

To that end, I wish you the very best as you wrap up the weeks ahead.  While this semester showed no signs of stopping, it will soon be time for us to take a brief respite so we can recharge and return with even greater energy and force.  I hope you enjoy a restful holiday, and may you come back ready to help us move even further along our path.