The ‘Power of X’ Multiplies with a New Look on Campus and Ambitious Academic Programs

Photography provided by Xavier University

Xavier University takes pride in being an institution in balance. A place where the old and the new harmoniously mingle; where state-of-the-art facilities are nestled beside historic buildings; where Jesuit Catholic values are applied to a diverse community; where the theoretical study of the humanities meets the practical needs of an innovative workforce and where students are educated with not only a goal to better their own lives, but a commitment to serve the wider community. 

Grounded in this tradition, Xavier has undergone an ambitious reshaping during the last decade, both academically and in the expansion of the physical campus. Academic programming is constantly being updated in ways that provide opportunities for students to connect with the real world. 

“Marrying a liberal arts education to the needs of the real world is a key part of our academic mission,” said Aaron Meis, vice president for enrollment management. “From sustainability, to politics, to health services and economics, we offer an education that is grounded in philosophy and tradition, with a focus on how to help our students get jobs and make the world a better place.”

Xavier offers a range of new degrees in cutting edge fields including innovation and design thinking, consumer analytics and health economic and clinical outcomes research. The expanded physical campus lends itself to a more collaborative environment for teaching and learning. In 2015, Alter Hall, Xavier’s primary classroom underwent a 15-month, $18 million total makeover, making it LEED certified and the most innovative building on campus. University Station adjacent to the campus at the corner of Dana Avenue and Montgomery Road, brought new student apartments, office, retail and restaurant space, including Delicio Coal Fired Pizza and Graeter’s within walking distance of campus. 

Not lost in a decade of construction dust is the goal that new spaces contribute to the Jesuit traditions of the 179-year-old university.     

“One of the things driving the reshaping of the campus was to make sure we provide for opportunities for reflection,” says Joe Shadle, director of the office of Mission and Identity. “Certainly we want people to engage, but there are also benches, niches, courtyards where people can gather or be by themselves. Our campus is a university in a park setting and that is intentional. We want to make sure the Jesuit value of reflection has a natural place to occur.”

What follows is a look at the impressive campus physical makeover and new academic and fundraising initiatives that reinforce Xavier’s Jesuit liberal arts tradition.


Expanded Campus Reshapes Montgomery Road Corridor

The expansion of the Xavier campus to nearly 200 acres begins with a tragedy. On July 19, 1990, there was a terrible explosion that demolished the BASF Corp. plant at Dana Avenue and Montgomery Road. Two people were killed, dozens injured and windows shattered for blocks. Little did anyone realize that event would clear the way for Xavier to expand and rethink how it fits in with its neighborhood. The environmental cleanup of the paint-manufacturing site left it vacant for two decades.     

The land was donated to Xavier in 2000 and the University began its expansion, reaching east to Montgomery Road, finally culminating in the opening of University Station in 2015. After the recession, the Ackerman Group and Messer Construction stepped up to complete the $54 million mixed-use University Station on 15 acres with 46,000 square feet of office space and 39,000 more for retail. It also has 200 housing units and 480 beds of student housing. Among the retail outlets are the All For One Bookstore, Starbucks, Graeter’s, Gold Star, Delicio Coal Fired Pizza and a TriHealth physician’s office. 

“It was a confluence of interest around a vibrant university community zone,” says Liz Blume, executive director of the 21-year-old Xavier Community Building Institute, which offers urban planning and consultation throughout the region. “The development grew out of a long-term need of Xavier to create a community/university business district. Norwood and Evanston were interested in revitalizing Montgomery Road. We wanted housing off-campus, but near campus. It gives us an outward face for the community and creates a business district that our students and the neighborhood are interested in.” 

That “outward face” is part of the larger community development goal for Blume, whose office gives Xavier a development voice in community organizations and gives students a chance to connect on issues of sustainability and engagement in schools, community councils and urban planning. 

Integrating the Xavier campus into the surrounding neighborhoods is what it’s all about for Blume. 

“A university in an urban area can respond to that environment by building a fence higher or, the way we chose, take the fence down and become part of the community,” she says. “There is a real intention for the campus to be more community-connected.” 

She cites the makeover of Ledgewood Drive through campus and the completion of the business and learning commons along Dana Avenue as giving the feel of “creating a front door and an open door to the community.”

Indeed, as University Station was being built, Xavier was putting the finishing touches on a building boom that made the campus friendlier for walking, learning and intentionally and unintentionally gathering and interacting. 

That construction included a new residential complex, Fenwick Place, which opened in fall 2011 with 535 beds in a suite-style setup. It is also home to the new campus dining center and the newly touted Pizza ATM, the first of its kind in North America, that dispense a hot, made from scratch pizza at the touch of a button. The Hoff Academic Quadrangle, located to the south of Fenwick Place and east of the Academic Mall, opened in 2010. Other newer, key buildings include Smith Hall, home to the Williams College of Business and a Wall Street-style trading center and Conaton Learning Commons, which houses all of Xavier’s academic support services.    

“People who come back to campus from 15 years ago remark at what a different place it is,” says Blume. “There is a stronger sense of community. In years past it looked more like a commuter campus. It’s fundamentally changed. It’s just a more complete feel.”


Making the Business School Essential to Business

One of the best examples of Xavier being involved in the larger Greater Cincinnati community can be found at the Williams College of Business, which offers nationally ranked MBA programs. Tom Hayes became the new WCB dean July 1 and is no stranger to campus – a second-generation Musketeer whose father was on the faculty. Hayes was the chair of the marketing department with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and MBA in marketing from XU and an MBA in organizational behavior and a PH.D in marketing from UC, when he began his Xavier teaching career after graduation in 1976.

The college has 65 faculty members, 12 executives-in-residence and 430 area executives serving as mentors to undergraduate and graduate students.

“My job is to make the Williams College of Business essential to the Greater Cincinnati business community,” Hayes says.

The most exciting example of that effort, he says, is the college’s new master’s degree in customer analytics and an undergrad major in business analytics.

“We interviewed a lot of business partners and asked, ‘What’s missing?’ They all pointed to customer analytics. When we created the program, we went back to the same businesses and said, ‘Does this help solve your problem?’ We honed it and launched it.” 

Key partners in the program include Kroger and 84.51, in some cases making their data available to students. “Classes use real-world data, the same information and software they would be using in the business world,” says Hayes. 

True to the Xavier liberal arts spirit, Hayes says the program focuses not only on understanding and making sense of customer meta data, but being able to communicate it. 

“We teach, ‘So what and now what?,’” says Hayes. “A lot of our partners said, ‘We would hire your entire class.’ What’s missing in the marketplace is the ability to be able to stand in front of upper-level management and provide insights as to what the data means and what you should do with it.” 

The Williams College of Business is now in its fifth year at its Smith Hall home, which houses its crown jewel, the Fifth Third Trading Center, one of the largest installations of Bloomberg trading terminals at a university in the country. Undergrads manage the $2.3 million D’Artagnan Capital Fund; graduate students handle a $1.2 million bond fund. 

Hayes has also led students on study trips to Cuba with another trip planned for spring of 2017. With the new Cuban relationship, he can’t wait for students to see firsthand what could be an emerging economy. 

“Cuba has lots of potential. They need so much help. Just for example, building supplies have been nonexistent for so long, their infrastructure needs so much work.”


College of Professional Sciences—What’s in a Name? 

Paul Gore’s day may begin with a breakfast with a hospital system CEO, followed by a lunch with a school superintendent, and then an afternoon meeting with criminal justice officials.

Such are the demands when you are Xavier University’s Dean of the College of Professional Sciences, a college that includes a variety of programs in health, education, and the social sciences.

“Almost all of the degree programs in Xavier’s College of Professional Sciences require students to be in the community practicing in their profession,” Gore says. “We rely heavily on the regional community to provide quality practice experiences for our students to fully realize their education.”

The renaming of the College of Social Sciences, Health, and Education to the College of Professional Sciences reflects its mission to educate students in professions that enhance the lives of people and address communities and societal needs. Shortly after Gore was named dean in July 2015, Xavier instituted the name change, which Gore views as a signature unifying theme.

It is a college with many moving parts – dozens of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in fields that include education, nursing, psychology, human resource development, counseling, health services administration, occupational therapy, criminal justice, social work, military sciences, radiology technology, and sport studies. The common denominator, they prepare students to make substantive contributions to enhance the wellbeing of people and our community and society.

Although it is a diverse portfolio, Gore says Xavier’s small size enables the college to be nimbler and promote interprofessional collaboration – an essential aspect of education in the college and professional practice in today’s society. Degree programs in the college exemplify XU’s motto: All for One and One for All.

“At a large university, our programs would be distributed across many colleges creating barriers and obstacles for interprofessional education and collaboration.

In contrast, we’re well positioned to provide our students with opportunities to work closely with students from allied professions for preparation for their future careers. Faculty and students from a variety of programs work together to create educational experiences and forums illustrating how various professions can successfully partner and collaborate in contemporary practice.

An example of how interprofessional thinking can contribute to program development is the launch of a Master’s of Science degree in Health Economics and Clinical Outcomes Research (HECOR), preparing graduates for success in the growing field of healthcare analytics.

The HECOR degree, in partnership with Norwood-based CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting Services, combines training in health economics, data mining, statistical modeling and epidemiology. “This program is an excellent example of our responsiveness to local and global employment needs” Gore says. “We are ahead of the curve nationally in delivering this degree and will soon offer online program delivery to reach students outside of Cincinnati.”


Xavier Student Reach Expanding Nationally

This fall, 58 percent of the entering freshman class of 2020 is from outside Ohio. It is the largest ever out-of-state percentage and continues a trend that began several years ago as Xavier expanded its reach nationally. Forty states and 21 countries are represented in the class. 

“Our application numbers have grown substantially in recent years,” says Lauren Cobble, dean of admissions. 

Cobble attributes that to several factors, including a heavier reliance on using regional admission counselors. And, she says, one can’t underestimate the good vibes generated by the university’s perennially successful men’s basketball program, especially with the school’s move to the high-profile Big East conference in 2013. 

“When we ask students how they hear of Xavier, many times the answer is, ‘I’ve seen you guys play basketball,’” Cobble says. “Our branding recognition, especially in the Northeast, puts us on a stage we had previously not been on. And that’s OK. If basketball gets us in the door, we can talk about how we are more than basketball.” 

Cobble says the school’s recruiting strength is rooted in being one of just 28 Jesuit colleges, with a 185-year legacy in Cincinnati. She says it’s attractive to be a medium-sized university in a dynamic, medium-sized city with rich opportunities. 

“Xavier has built a solid reputation with the local business, educational and health communities. That is a huge benefit for our students and our graduates will tell you the same thing.” 

The class of 2020 is slightly stronger academically than previous years. Cobble says students are attracted to a campus that embraces them; aided by the fact that freshman and sophomores are required to live on campus (unless they live with parents within 35 miles of campus). 

“We hear it all the time from entering students – they feel accepted, the place has a sense of community and you feel you are part of something important.” 


Keeping the Faith

Xavier is proud of its Jesuit tradition that is rooted in centuries of the Ignatian commitment to educate the whole person, to foster a love of lifelong learning and to engage in the world in order to make it a better place. 

Shadle works with faculty, staff and administrators to help them integrate principles of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit education to their positions within the university.  

The Mission and Identity office resides in a single, inspiring suite of offices in the centrally located Fenwick Place, adorned with art illustrating the life of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola. Previously the office was scattered over nine locations in its 24-year history. The symbolism of the new office and its location should not be lost, Shadle says.     

“For the first time our whole staff is together at the core of the campus where faculty and staff can come. It’s a true center now, adorned with art, natural light and is a reminder Jesuit values are front and center for all to see.” 

Shadle oversees three key programs aimed at instilling Jesuit thinking in faculty and staff. 

A Manresa program offers a series of seminars to orient new staff and faculty in spirituality and Jesuit education. There is an Ignatian mentoring program for second-year faculty to encourage them to reflect on their particular role in the university and how Jesuit values can be reflected in courses. 

Shadle also oversees an ambitious two-year professional development program about the Jesuit tradition that is open to new faculty or veteran staffers, who may feel it’s time for a “refresher course.”     

“It’s unique in Jesuit colleges to have a weekly meeting for two years,” he says. “We explore how the Jesuit history tradition impacts teaching and engagement of students. It can be a powerful experience for people to go through.”

Offerings from the Center’s Conway Institute for Jesuit Education support faculty’s profound implementation of the Jesuit educational tradition. Shadle says the ultimate goal is to pass these traditions on to the students. 

“I am struck by how the faculty and staff from a variety of faith traditions have found value in this rich heritage,” Shadle says. “Whether helping students make decisions through discernment, fostering compassion and real-world solutions through solidarity, we are all working to help students develop knowledge skills and wisdom not just for a job after college, but for the rest of their lives.”


Planning for the Future

Momentum. That is the key word these days for Gary Massa, who has seen a major transformation of the Xavier campus in the 18 years he has been there. He wants to build on that energy.

“There is so much more to be done,” says Massa, vice president of University Relations, overseeing development, fundraising and alumni relations. 

Massa, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA from the University, is also remembered as a star basketball player. Looking back at the incredible growth, Massa sees it as essential groundwork to keep on growing. He notes 90 percent of the money raised by the university in its 179-year history has been donated in the last 20 years. That is mostly the result of three major capital campaigns that have helped the campus expand to nearly 200 acres, the building of the Cintas Center and the total makeover of the interior campus with new classroom renovations, a new residence hall and an academic mall. 

A new capital campaign is quietly underway with the goal of raising $240 million by 2021 to keep the momentum going. Plans in the next few years include construction of a $40 million state-of-the-art student recreation center. The RecPlex will be east of campus near University Station. Massa hopes ground will be broken in a couple years. 

“We have a place for it. We have a plan for it and the scope is large. We just need to get it funded,” he says.

But Massa says perhaps the most important part of the campaign is to build the university’s endowment, which is currently near $170 million, significantly below many schools of Xavier’s size. Massa says $100 million of the money raised will be earmarked for the endowment with a significant part of that going to investments to help fund student aid.

“The endowment is not where we need to be, but it’s significantly better than where we were. We would like to get to $300 million.” 

It would seem alumni and the larger Greater Cincinnati business community has certainly bought into the momentum Xavier has created. Its annual fund has achieved fundraising records six years in a row, including $8.7 million last year. What Massa calls “the lifeblood of the school,” the Xavier Annual Fund, directly benefits students in the form of financial aid, helping to make up for the fact that XU’s endowment earnings only generate a small percentage of the more than $60 million in student aid awarded each year. 

Massa credits the fundraising growth to the continuity and stability of Xavier’s leadership over the last 25 years with the ambitious growth and development beginning in the 1990s under Father James Hoff, and continued since 2001 under current president, Father Michael Graham. The University Relations staff has also seen remarkable stability with a development team with an average of 10 years experience in a field where development officers move on every 16 months on average.