You are here: October 23, 2018 - Energized After All-American Weekend

Dear AU Family,

I hope you all had a great fall break, and a wonderful All-American Weekend! I sure did. As part of All-American Weekend, I loved seeing our students, welcoming our parents and welcoming back our alumni. The energy of AU’s past, present, and future is great during the weekend.

I was particularly blown away by our five alumni awardees. Every year, the AU Alumni Association selects a few recipients who have made a lasting impact on society, and on AU, through their professional, philanthropic, or volunteer accomplishments.

This year’s awardees so reflect what I have learned about AU in my first year, and what our future holds. They are all incredible changemakers and inspirational doers. Even when they were being honored, all of them asked, “what can we do for AU?” Typical Eagles.

Sylvia Burwell with AU alumni board membersAlumni board members past and present joined me to honor our 2018 Alumni Association award recipients.

From Andre Ingram, and the chants of “MVP! MVP!” that rang out the night of his debut on the Lakers, to Sarah McBride, an author, national spokesperson, and pioneer in equal rights, I encourage you to click through their stories, and get a sense of each of these outstanding individuals. I know their stories will make you very proud to be an Eagle.

The variety of their stories says so much about how many different ways there are to make an impact. There’s Jack Rasmussen and how he brought the power of the arts right here to campus, to Brandon Krapf and honoring those who served in the armed forces by building a great community of Veterans at AU, to Rebecca Geller, who asks “why not?” and is creating an approach to practicing law that honors and creates space for family and community service.

On Saturday night, I finished the last of our All-American Weekend events uplifted and energized. I hope you can draw the same energy from these amazing Eagle alumni, too.  

Strategic Plan

We’re making progress on the University’s new Strategic Plan as a community. Our process has benefited from robust input from people all across AU, as well as our alumni and parents. As we move into the final stages, we’re interested in continuing to hear from you. This week, I’ll be joining faculty and staff to a series of consultation sessions. You can find them here:

  • Tuesday, October 23, 3:30 – 4:30 p.m., SIS Abramson Family Founders Room
  • Wednesday, October 24, 11:00 a.m. - noon, SIS Room 120
  • Wednesday, October 24, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m., Butler Board Room

We held a consultation session with students yesterday in SIS Founders, and with faculty in the Don Myers Building.

The strategy is about connecting our strengths and values with a changing future. We are already taking steps and pursuing some areas of strategic focus - from large strategic issues like implementing our inclusive excellence plan, which our inclusive excellence team recently updated us on, to more tactical things, like improving the way we work.

You might have heard that we’re in the process of trimming down the number of printers on campus and defaulting to double-sided printing. When we started, there were about 1,300 printers throughout campus. We’ve cut that in half. By the end of the process, we’ll be down to about a third of the printers we had before. This kind of progress can only happen when we work together as one AU, committed to common goals – just like in our strategic plan. And when we do come together, we can accomplish amazing things. In this case, over time we will save millions of dollars – money that can come back into the campus community – and advance our mission. Thank you to everyone who participated in this work, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish together over the next five years.  

Mental Health on Campus

A key part of our strategy is the student experience, and I decided to speak up about that topic recently in a piece for Foreign Affairs (yes, it turns out that even presidents write papers sometimes, too!). I hoped that maybe I could help move an important conversation forward. The idea of this paper started with our students’ impact, as I met with many students last year. They were very articulate about the stress and anxiety in their lives. I followed up those conversations with some of AU’s experts in campus life and our psychology department to understand the issue better, and read some of the latest research and findings. As an institution, AU recognizes that healthy students are successful students, and we’re on a journey right now toward better health, and better education around healthy habits.

The demand for mental health services is rising at colleges across the United States, and AU is no exception. Like many campuses, we’re adapting to these shifts but, also like many campuses, we face a challenge in meeting the demand for mental health services. Since we first offered urgent care in 2013, demand has increased 140 percent. Over the past two years alone, it’s grown by 20 percent. And, in keeping with our commitment to respond rapidly to this rise, our AU Counseling Center has had to make some difficult choices and decisions. We try every day to strike the right balance between the need to see more students, while not compromising our commitment to the safety of people in need of the most care, and the safety of our community. It’s a constant effort, and we’re always looking for ways to maintain access to treatment, while leveraging as many resources as possible to provide that care. These models and approaches are things that we’re continuing to re-evaluate.

There aren’t simple answers – I have some ideas, but certainly not all the answers myself. But I know for sure that responding to this challenge requires all of us to come together. I appreciate everyone who’s shared their feedback and thoughts already. I hope you’ll read the article, share it with colleagues and friends, and help keep this conversation moving forward.

Most importantly, though, if you ever feel like you need help, students can reach out to our student counseling center and faculty and staff can contact our Faculty Staff Assistance Program at FSAP@american.edu.

An Eagle Story

Our AU family is full of stories of people who came to this campus, found a passion, and left a lasting impact on the world. We celebrated one of those Eagles a couple of weeks ago, when KPU hosted the Parkland students. The Symposium they spoke at is called the Larissa Gerstel Critical Literacy and Social Justice Symposium, and it’s named for Larissa Gerstel (who was known at AU by her maiden name, Larissa Rozek).

Parkland students at bender arenaParkland students (from left) Samantha Fuentes, David Hogg, and Jaclyn Corin

Larissa was a student who was passionate about education. Specifically, critical literacy – the idea that through active analysis and questioning by a reader, we can uncover the underlying messages of power, inequality, and injustice in human relationships. As a student, she let this passion lead her to found, with Dr. Vivian Vasquez, an organization called Educators for Critical Literacy – helping local communities make literacy a central component of children’s lives.

After teaching in Montgomery County, Maryland, for a year, Larissa moved to central Florida. She could have taken a teaching position she was offered at a school close to her home. Instead, Larissa went where she saw a need, and drove 60 miles each way to her job teaching in a community that was mostly the 4th and 5th grade children of immigrant agricultural workers – children for whom English was their second language.

Tragically, Larissa passed away when she was 26. But her legacy lives on. Her parents established the Larissa Gerstel Endowed Fund, which supports the symposium we held, as well as purchases books for the Critical Literacy Collection in the School of Education. And just this year, her family fully endowed the Larissa Gerstel Social Justice Scholarship – a fund to support underrepresented and first-generation students majoring in education.

To see another mark of Larissa’s legacy, you have to travel to Florida. There, at Pierson Elementary School, you’ll find parents and children coming together for literacy events – hosted at the Larissa Gerstel Parenting Center.

Bobby Kennedy once said, “our happiness will not come from the goods we have, but from the good we do together.” I hope we each find our way to find our happiness through doing good, together.

Be a Voter

One small but meaningful way we can do good in a couple of weeks is to show up and vote!

No matter what issues are most important to you, or where you lean on the political spectrum, each one of us needs to participate in our democracy. We only have a few short weeks before the midterm election, so follow along with Eagles Elect (@AUEaglesElect on Twitter) and visit our TurboVote page to find out how you can make sure you’re registered, set reminders for the election, and make sure you get your absentee ballot. (You can even head over to the library in case you need a free stamp or a witness for that absentee ballot of yours.)

And yes, I do realize that reminding the school with the Most Politically Active Students in the nation to vote is a bit like preaching to the choir…

Best,

sylvia signature