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From the Alumni Office:

Jennifer Hamlin Church, Associate VP for Advancement & Director of Alumni Relations
Jennifer Hamlin Church, Associate VP for Advancement & Director of Alumni Relations

No Typical Alumni!

My first encounter with Siena Heights occurred 25 years ago when I answered a phone call for my husband, Tracy. The caller was a professor, my husband’s advisor, but he hadn’t seen Tracy for a while. I knew that Tracy had had other things on his mind: a wedding, a demanding job, kidney dialysis, a kidney transplant, and then a leg amputation. But this professor didn’t know any of that. He just knew Tracy was close to completing his B.A., and he didn’t want him to quit: “Tell him we hope he’ll come back,” he said. “We want him to finish that degree.”

I was dumbfounded. Who bothered to keep track of individual students and notice when they stopped out? What college took the time to call a part-time guy on the 27-year plan…and encourage him to keep going? Who did that?

Siena Heights did. Professor Bill Blackerby did.

Tracy’s graduation a few years later was another eye-opener. I had attended a traditional liberal arts college and worked at two others; there, a “typical” graduate was about 22 years old. But sitting in the Fieldhouse in 1993, I knew … knew in a new way … that no senior had worked harder to reach this day than my 45-year-old husband. And no family was any prouder of their graduate than we were. What an epiphany!

At that moment, I became a fan of non-traditional education.

Two years later, I came to work at Siena Heights largely because of its unique student diversity: a blend of youth and experience, full-time and part-time, teenager and mid-career executive. I soon learned how Dominican this was.

The Sisters were our first working-adult students. Starting in the 1920s, many young Adrian Dominicans spent winters teaching school and summers studying for a degree. Later, lots of lay teachers came to Siena for teaching certification. Then, in the mid-70s, Siena Heights pioneered a new era of degree-completion for working adults, introducing the Bachelor of Applied Science degree and offering credit for professional experience and certification.

Like St. Dominic, who took the church to the people, Siena began offering classes where and when adults could get there. Vietnam War veterans and electronics technicians were among those who jumped at the chance to enroll in evening and weekend classes. An old elementary school in Southfield was our first off-campus center. Today, the Southfield center is one of seven off-campus sites serving adults “on the ground” across Michigan; and our nationally-ranked distance learning program reaches students online in 40 states and several countries.

Recently, when the Alumni Board looked at reunion classes for 2015, everyone was startled by the degree and speed of change in our alumni demographics. Just 40 years ago, in 1975, all graduates earned their degrees on the Adrian campus. But in 2010 (this year’s 5th reunion class) fewer than 27% of the bachelor’s graduates earned degrees on the Adrian campus; and of the nearly 500 graduates of off-campus programs, 125 attended online.

The statistics are stunning, exciting, and challenging. While there are fewer common denominators among our alumni than in the past, we share the most important things: Dominican values. The SHU mission. A commitment to be more competent, purposeful and ethical, and to respect the dignity of all.

Siena Heights is working to engage all alumni: The Alumni Board includes graduates of our Southfield, Monroe, Lansing and Distance Learning programs, and seeks representation from all sites. Several off-campus alumni visited Adrian for the first time for this year’s dinner-theater alumni event. Alumni Board members shook hands at Commencement with online graduates from Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Saudi Arabia—and encouraged them all to come “home” again for Homecoming.

After 20 years, the diversity of our alumni population is still one of the things I love best about Siena Heights. I think Dominic would be impressed, too

Jennifer A. Hamlin Church
Associate VP for Advancement & Director of Alumni Relations
(517) 264-7143

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