New president calls the university “poised for greatness”
By Hunter Ellis, Multimedia Managing Editor
The Office of the President has traded in the typical mundanity and slower pace of summer for a multi-month project of ushering in the brand new face at the university’s helm: Dr. Colleen Hanycz.
Her office sits atop Schmidt Hall, where an open window allows for a comforting summer breeze to billow in the room. Each day is organized in a single binder lined with dividers for her back-to-back-to-back meetings.
This is not her first time serving as a college president; rather, she enters the presidency at Xavier after six years at La Salle University. She is now faced with the challenge of getting to know Xavier and Cincinnati, with all of its strengths, downfalls and quirks.
Hanycz also holds a unique position as an “outsider” of the university. She believes this position offers her an interesting perspective on how this campus functions.
“Sometimes it’s hard from within a community to recognize the strengths. When we are living within a community, whether it’s a family or a neighborhood or an institutional community, we are more apt to take the strengths for granted, to take the little things for granted, and instead recognize the irritations, the little thorns that bother us,” Hanycz said.
“But as an outsider to this community, it is remarkable to me the strengths of this community, how you come together around a shared mission that is lived here in all corners of this university,” she continued. “When we talk about Cura Personalis, and the care for the whole person, that is happening here every day on every floor of every building and every bench out on the yard, and so on.”
As the Fall semester begins, Hanycz explained that she’s particularly excited to connect with the students and staff that make up the Xavier community.
“What has been missing for me this summer is the students. I look very forward this fall to connecting with my colleagues, but also with our students,” Hanycz said.
She noted that these opportunities to engage with the student body will happen both formally and informally.
“Getting to know our students through regular meetings with SGA, and some of the clubs and organizations… that (is the) more formal piece,” she clarified. “What I’m also looking for are the informal pieces: to hear from them, to read the Newswire, to read social media and see what our students are saying.”
Through communicating with the student body, Hanycz hopes to get more familiar with the university as a whole, which will allow her to pinpoint what Xavier’s “spires of excellence” are.
“I want us to identify what I think of as our spires of excellence… we can’t be good at everything and we can’t be everything to all people. What are the things that we are really going to claim to the world that we are terrific at doing? Identifying those spires is something that our students will help with tremendously,” she added.
Hanycz said that another formal piece of getting to know not just the student body, but faculty, staff and the Xavier community as a whole, will come later this year during listening sessions. These sessions, in Hanycz’s estimation, will help Xavier get an idea of what the students’ needs are moving forward. She aims to create a space for students to express these needs, congruent with Xavier’s mission to have a student-focused learning environment.
“The needs of our students lie at the heart of (my) decisions, but I should clarify that is not the same as the wants of the students always being at the heart of those decisions… Sometimes what a student body really needs isn’t necessarily what they wanted,” Hanycz said.
“Think about the core curriculum and some of your majors. That’s why we have the experts. Our faculty members who say, ‘if you’re going to study accounting, you really need to take this course.’ It may not be what you want, but you really need to do it,” Hanycz added.
The culmination of these listening sessions will be a strategic plan for Xavier’s future, developed through conversations with members of all areas of the Muskie community.
“We are now literally poised for greatness in a way that is so exciting. My vision is for us to come together collectively and create a strategic plan that is the boldest, most audacious, most ambitious plan this university has ever seen. And that will happen,” Hanycz stated.
“Do I know what the elements of that plan are going to be? Absolutely not. You would be unhappy if I did, because that would suggest that it’s my plan and not our plan,” she continued. “A hallmark of higher education is to try and bring as many voices to the table as we possibly can. We are going to bring people together… and that vision will be ours.”
Xavier’s new president noted that her task would’ve been nearly impossible without the help of Father Michael Graham, former president.
“Father Graham leaves massive shoes. In fact, they’re more like hip waders,” Hanycz joked. “But it is an absolute blessing to be able to learn from him. When I’ve asked him for his input in my early days he has just been so, so generous in providing me with some context and background to this community.”
Hanycz also recognizes that she’s joining the university in a tumultuous time; her welcome to Xavier comes as a campus-wide mask mandate goes into effect and racially-motivated vandalism incidents sit at the forefront of many students’ minds.
To Hanycz, a crucial element in getting through these is a spirit of community.
“We’ve all been through so much with COVID and with larger national conflicts,” she said. “But we need to find a way to simply recognize that we are all part of a broader community. We can come together in ways that celebrate what is good about us collectively.”
She hopes that, as a campus community, Xavier can work to create unity and connections in the face of conflict.
“There is a temperature in this country right now where we are very quick to judge one another, and very quick to attack those who have different ideas than we have. We need to resist that. We need to give grace to one another, and give each other the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
Hanycz has felt that sense of community and unity off campus as well, attributing a certain “Midwestern charm” to the greater Cincinnati area.
“This is a great city and is another example of where sometimes you take it for granted because it’s where you live, but when you come from the outside you can say, ‘Whoa, this is different and it’s wonderful,’” the president added.
Not only has she been enjoying the Midwestern charm of Cincinnati, but she has also developed a taste for some of the city’s cuisine.
“Let me just say that I did not personally need to fall in love with more ice cream. However, that has happened… we’re close to about 14 Graeter’s locations, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to all of them,” Hanycz said. “Our children have connected us to the coney dog. And so that was quite a treat as well.”
As Hanycz enters the 2021-2022 school year, she has high hopes for everything from Skyline to students’ success. But as students come to campus, she hopes they can stop and take a moment to appreciate it all.
“What I really hope is that as we all come back into this community after our summer, we would take a moment to just look around and recognize the strength and the blessing in the beauty, the beauty of the community that we belong to,” Hanycz smiled.
Photo courtesy of @PrezHanycz via Twitter
Dr. Colleen Hanycz, president, aspires to create a “strategic plan” with input from, students, staff and faculty across campus. The plan is designed to identify Xavier’s “spires of excellence,” or areas in which it excels.
Photo courtesy of @PrezHanycz
Hanycz gives gold stars to Cincinnati chili dogs and Graeter’s ice cream.
Photo courtesy of Xavier University via YouTube
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