Benedictine University at Mesa is celebrating its first year of providing a Catholic, values-based, liberal arts education to students in Maricopa County and the greater East Valley area.
Although there are always challenges associated with establishing a presence in a new community – gaining trust among students, parents and local leaders; competition with more established area institutions; meeting projected enrollment requirements to sustain operations – Benedictine has taken many positive steps toward becoming a permanent part of the Mesa landscape.
“We learned a lot during our first year in Mesa, and we are proud of our success with so many committed faculty, staff and students, as well as the fantastic support we have received from the City of Mesa and its citizens,” said Charlie Gregory, executive vice president of Benedictine University, who has been leading the University’s efforts in the East Valley.
“Our first year was very successful, but we also have much work to do,” he added. “We see where our strengths are and where we need to improve to ensure the level of excellence expected of a Benedictine education. We are learning more about the community and how to better serve them. We are better today than we were yesterday. And we will be better tomorrow than we are today.”
Benedictine University at Mesa is a branch campus of Benedictine University, which is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and licensed by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education to operate an accredited, degree-granting institution of higher learning in Arizona.
As part of Mesa’s HEAT Initiative, Benedictine University, based in Lisle, Ill., just outside of Chicago, was invited to be the first institution of higher education to locate a campus in Mesa. Subsequently, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education voted unanimously to grant Benedictine a license to offer educational programs in Mesa, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved the University's application for Authority to Conduct Affairs in Arizona, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix officially invited Benedictine University to open a branch campus in the diocese.
The growth of Benedictine University at Mesa during the past 12 months has exceeded even the University’s expectations. Second-year enrollment is up with a projected enrollment of 340 students in fall 2014, the John O. Whiteman Student Success Center was established to help ensure student success, new majors have been added to meet growing student demand and job market needs, the groundbreaking $10K M.B.A. program was introduced to offer an affordable master’s degree to area professionals, and a seasoned administrator was hired to oversee the development of athletics.
Establishing the new John O. Whiteman Student Success Center was one of the University’s major goals for the first year. The center offers coaching, tutoring and mentoring, and provides access to internships, networking and other career preparation activities. The center hosts leadership and character development workshops, and organizes service learning and civic involvement activities.
“Student learning and success is our first priority,” Gregory said. “The center will help make that success real. It will offer students access to the skills and opportunities they need to succeed in school and their careers.”
The University also established the Jo Wilson Leadership Institute. The institute combines leadership development, community service, critical and creative thinking, technology integration, collaboration and service learning, and is designed to shape student leaders, foster community service and improve student success among a select group of first-year students. This is an important part of helping students get the most out of college and put them on the path to leadership in their careers.
Benedictine also believes that students should have the opportunity to succeed outside the classroom and live a life of balance. Beginning this fall, students – who chose Redhawks as the school’s mascot – will be able to participate in men’s and women’s cross country, golf, tennis and volleyball. Men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, softball and baseball are planned for the 2015-2016 academic year.
Two new academic programs have been added for the Fall 2014 Semester – a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Time magazine reported earlier this year that accountant and technology jobs are some of the most highly needed positions that companies nationwide are seeking to fill. Welcoming new faculty will invigorate the academic programs.
One of Benedictine’s existing academic programs – Psychology – is expected to more than double in size. Psychology is a popular major among college students because it can be applied in a number of subspecialties or can lead to further graduate study and careers in law, education and business.
“Our students were engaged in a variety of projects this year – writing blogs, developing websites, collecting and analyzing data,” said Shannon Rauch, Ph.D., assistant professor. “Outside the classroom, students formed a Psychology Club and are looking forward to having new members join them in the fall for speakers, volunteer activities and social events.”
The fit was also good for Marlo Enrico, who admits living away from home for the first time in her life was challenging, but that she overcame any difficulties through the friendships she developed and support she experienced from the University.
“There were times (during her first semester) I felt very overwhelmed,” said Enrico, a Communications Arts major and one of the first students to attend classes at the Benedictine University at Mesa branch campus. “I had a lot on my plate. It was also a little difficult transitioning from living at home to living at the residence hall (Phoenix Marriott Mesa) and being apart from my family for a while.
“I've made some very close friendships here, and whenever I felt overwhelmed or homesick, I always had someone to talk to,” she added. “There is a really strong sense of community here, and that's one of my favorite things about going to this school.”
Meanwhile, the University looks forward to continuing its successful partnership with the Phoenix Marriott Mesa. Last year, a dozen students enjoyed the hotel’s exceptional accommodations, outstanding facilities and many amenities including free high-speed Internet, a fitness center, pool, restaurant and free parking.
“The No. 1 reason we went into this partnership was to help Benedictine students be successful,” said Karen Hunt, director of sales at the Phoenix Marriott Mesa. “We provide a very safe environment for them, which I know as a parent is very important. We felt it was a good fit for us.”
The students who lived at the Marriott – and whose numbers are expected to swell with the influx of student-athletes in the fall – reported that they built friendships and utilized the hotel’s facilities for study groups and well-deserved down time activities.
Not that they had much down time. Community service is an integral part of a Benedictine education and students gave back to the community by participating in a number of service projects. They took over a laundromat to wash clothes for children entering the foster care system, they helped to revitalize four area homes, and they went door-to-door with members of the fire department to distribute information packets to local residents.
They also took time out to celebrate the University’s first year with an end-of-the-year party to further the bonds built and look back at all that had been accomplished.
“Living and working in community is very important to Benedictines,” Gregory said. “That includes fostering the sense of community among our own students. That bond is something that helps set us apart from other schools.”
Diversity also sets Benedictine apart. Benedictine is traditionally one of the most diverse universities in the country because of an emphasis on welcoming the stranger. That Benedictine value and adherence to the Catholic tradition make the University strong, different and prepares students to live in an increasingly globalized society.
Preparing young people for the future is not Benedictine’s only mission, however.
This spring, Benedictine established an adult education presence in Mesa with its $10K M.B.A. program. The program is designed to make an advanced degree affordable and attainable for a broad cross-section of adult professionals in business, industry, public service, military service or other professional employment. It has been met with much success as 24 adults registered for the first group with classes scheduled to start June 24 and additional groups are already forming.
Through Benedictine’s National Moser Center for Adult Learning, the University will also offer accelerated adult undergraduate degrees in Criminal Justice and Accounting in the next academic year for area residents.
“Our philosophy has always been that if we see a need in the community, we try to fill it,” Gregory said.
Benedictine is also committed to making an undergraduate education affordable. One hundred percent of incoming freshmen receive some form of financial aid, and Benedictine also makes more than 75 external scholarships available to students. Financial aid representatives help students and their families exhaust all possible means of financial aid, including federal loans, need-based grants and work-study options.
Benedictine’s entrance into the Arizona market has not been without some growing pains. But like the famous Abbey of Montecassino, Italy, which was destroyed and rebuilt four times, Benedictines have a way of soldiering on.
“Starting a branch campus isn’t easy,” Gregory said. “Not every school that took up the city’s offer to establish a campus in Mesa survived. Even the best-laid plans need adjusting along the way. We strive to do our best and provide a valuable service.”
Benedictine University at Mesa is already taking aggressive steps in year two to ensure that it will continue to provide an affordable and attainable education infused with Catholic tradition and Benedictine values to students in the Mesa area.
Immediate plans include expanding and strengthening the student life experience by building more activities and events, offering more career-focused opportunities through the John O. Whiteman Student Success Center, exploring new academic programs, enhancing recruiting efforts for the new athletic programs and providing new amenities like campus housing and sports facilities.
Benedictine students, faculty and staff are also excited to be part of building a thriving “college town” atmosphere in downtown Mesa and being part of the city’s overall downtown revitalization plan.
“Benedictine has integrated seamlessly within the community and developed strong ties throughout downtown Mesa and the entire city,” said Mesa Vice Mayor Chris Glover. “Every administrator, faculty member and student should be extremely proud of what they have been able to accomplish in just one short year.
“I am excited to see what this campus can achieve in the future and feel privileged to have this esteemed Catholic university located in the heart of Mesa,” he added.
Benedictine University at Mesa is still accepting applications for fall 2014 classes. For more information about Benedictine, please visit ben.edu/mesa or the Gregory Enrollment Center at 51 E. Main St., Suite 105 in downtown Mesa, or contact (602) 888-5533 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Classes begin August 25.