Office of the President > Speeches & Communications > 2019–2020 > Academic convocation 2019

Academic convocation 2019

Remarks delivered by President A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D., at DePaul’s annual academic convocation ceremony

Sept. 5, 2019

Provost Ghanem, Faculty Council President Professor Paeth, cabinet members, Joint Council, distinguished faculty, staff and guests. Congratulations first and foremost to our newly promoted and tenured faculty. I second Provost Ghanem’s welcome to our new faculty and staff. I extend a special welcome to the members of the Vincentian community, Daughters of Charity and clergy. I also would like to recognize my wife, Jo. 

As we enter the second year of DePaul’s strategic plan, we continue the journey ahead with a sense of satisfaction from the work we accomplished last year. We made progress on several fronts, and we are taking steps toward our ultimate goal: to make DePaul unequaled among urban universities. 

Allow me to be more specific. 

By 2030, our goal is to be recognized as one of the:
  • top 50 national urban universities
  • top 10 private national universities for Pell-aid awarded
  • top five national, urban, Catholic universities.  
These goals, which may seem daunting, are not unique to this particular era. DePaul has always had big aspirations. In fact, during the very first report of the Board of Trustees in 1909, our first president, Fr. Byrne wanted DePaul to be as prominent as Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. More recently, in 1988, we set as one of our goals to be among the top Catholic universities in the country by 1998.  When you look at our recent accomplishments, I know we are on the path to achieving these goals. 

The number of students who are employed or pursuing further degrees within six months of graduation continues to increase. Ninety-three percent of undergraduate students and 94 percent of graduate students in the class of 2018 have a job or are continuing their education. Both of those percentages are a slight increase compared to the Class of 2017. In addition, 60 percent of reporting undergraduate students participated in an internship while studying at DePaul. By 2025, our goal is to have 85 percent of our students participate in an internship.

This year, we have one of the largest, most diverse freshman classes in the history of DePaul University. Honors enrollment remains high as well. It also appears that we will, for the first time since 2012, slightly increase our overall enrollment. Thank you for making this possible.

One part of our enrollment strategy - not to mention our commitment to DePaul’s Catholic, Vincentian urban mission - includes the Catholic Heritage Scholarship and the Chicago Promise Scholarship offered to entering freshmen. Collectively, more than 350 enrolled freshmen received one of the two new scholarships this year. 

The DePaul Harold Washington Academy also provides Chicago Public School students with an affordable pathway to a DePaul bachelor’s degree. Following the successful completion of an associate’s degree, these students will seamlessly transfer to DePaul. Our first cohort is off to a strong start. As of the first day of classes, which was two weeks ago for these students because they are on semesters, more than 80 students enrolled in the academy.

I’ll share a few more highlights from the first year of our strategic plan.

As part of our commitment to inclusivity and diversity, we announced the university’s first presidential fellows in February. Christina Rivers, associate professor of political science, and Alyssa Westring, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship, are serving as the inaugural fellows. 

The purpose of the Presidential Fellows program is to give faculty the opportunity to apply their scholarly expertise to help DePaul achieve specific objectives within the strategic plan. For example, Dr. Rivers is investigating how DePaul could create a cohort of incoming underrepresented students who are matched with faculty of similar interests. Her goal is to encourage these students to pursue doctoral degrees. Dr. Westring is evaluating DePaul’s culture and identifying opportunities to enhance the engagement, retention and career advancement for women and faculty of color. 

In order to encourage and support your ideas, the Academic Growth and Innovation Fund awarded $2.1 million to 15 projects this past fiscal year. These projects range from an Urban Studies Cluster to an online master’s in communication, innovation and entrepreneurship to a game design studio. Due to the positive response from across the university, from faculty and staff, endowed funds have been designated to support the Academic Growth and Innovation Fund in future years.

For regular updates about innovative initiatives at DePaul, I invite you to follow a new podcast, called DePaul Download. The podcast will put a spotlight on our faculty experts. You’ll also get to hear from me once in a while. We’re excited to launch the first full episodes later this month. Stay tuned.

This past year, in an effort to deepen our commitment to DePaul’s Catholic, Vincentian and urban mission, we also continued our efforts to address pressing societal issues. In order to sustain support for teaching, research and service that nurtures our Catholic, Vincentian identity, we integrated the Institute of Global Homelessness into Academic Affairs. The institute now has an endowment that has grown to more than $7 million, including a $1 million gift from DePaul Trustee George Ruff and his wife, Tanya.  

This year on December 7, DePaul is proud to host Chicago’s Big Sleep Out on our Lincoln Park Campus. The event will raise awareness and funds to help the nearly 9,000 Chicagoans who are experiencing homelessness. A portion of the funds will go to Dax House, a program that provides housing for DePaul’s housing insecure students. Every quarter, we have 50 to 60 students who are housing insecure. Registration for the event opens this month, and we will share more details soon.

We named our strategic plan “Grounded in Mission” for a reason. DePaul’s Catholic, Vincentian mission remains at the center of our plan and the core of who we are as a university. As we look ahead to DePaul’s future, we’re not trying to grow for growth sake. We aim to address societal and student needs.

Following the advice of St. Louise de Marillac, before we ask the Vincentian question, “What must be done?”, we should ask: “What NEEDS to be done?” 

The School of Continuing and Professional Studies is one answer. I will echo what Provost Ghanem said earlier: DePaul has a longstanding commitment to serve diverse adult populations. With SCPS, our commitment is now even stronger. I am confident SCPS faculty and staff will implement best practices in support of adult student success.

Our health and medical science programs are another large piece of the vision for DePaul’s future. A number of new programs are under development that will fulfill societal and student interests.  As part of his focus on strategic initiatives, former Provost Marten denBoer is working on expanding our health and medical science offerings, as well as exploring the possibility of expanding our nascent engineering program offerings. I remain grateful for the extensive scientific experience Marten brings to these initiatives.  

One more exciting development – soon we will announce a major initiative that also will serve many needs across the country and around the world. I can’t share many details with you yet, but I will say that this new program is the result of an anonymous $20 million gift, our second largest gift in our history. An official announcement will be made early next week. 

I will repeat what I said at the beginning of my remarks: we are paving a way forward to achieve a vision where DePaul is unequaled among urban universities. 

Do we have challenges ahead of us? Yes, we do. We must be realistic. 

One of my favorite quotes is from the speech of the late President John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1962 given at Rice University Stadium on why we should go to the moon.  I quote: … Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

We have not chosen an easy path because that is not who we are at DePaul. That’s not what we expect from our students. Our strategic plan serves as our roadmap. I have complete faith in the ability of you, our talented faculty and staff, to successfully navigate our ambitious course.  

Thank you for your continued dedication to our students. Thank you for all that you do every single day for DePaul. I remain blessed to work alongside you and look forward to our continued progress in the year ahead. Have a terrific year.