Stoute talks strategy
By: Delaney Hayden, Asst. News Editor
President Stoute answers The Griffin’s Call: Asking Questions About the Strategic Plan
On Sept. 22, The Griffin sat down and interviewed President Stoute of Canisius University to learn more about his newly shared strategic plan: “Answer the Call.”
The six-year strategic plan was officially revealed on Sept. 13 and contains four pillars (“Academic Excellence and Innovation,” “Student Success and Engagement.” “Institutional Sustainability” and “Our Campus, Our Community”). It is geared toward helping Canisius continue to grow and prosper in all aspects of its being.
During an interview with President Stoute, he provided a brief summary of the plan and its end goals, stating, “The most important thing I think about the plan and its eternity is that it's really about reimagining a Canisius University for current context.” A feature of this would be an institution led by support, he stated, “So when I put [the four pillars] all together, it’s really about co-creating the Canisius University of today that empowers students to be successful and engaged while they are here.”
Stoute emphasized the importance of Canisius being a Jesuit institution and the plan being rooted in those Jesuit values.
Leadership is an area that President Stoute is very well known in and for. Getting his own feature story written in the CIO VIEWS, he was referred to as one of “The 10 Most Visionary Leaders Transforming Education, 2023.” President Stoute has clear intentions of bringing knowledge from his own experience in leadership to Canisius, not only heading new initiatives such as the strategic plan but also encouraging all students of Canisius to be leaders in their own way.
Stoute explained that “having opportunities to take risks” and the support system around him are what allowed him to learn and grow as a leader, and what he urges and hopes students at Canisius can have opportunities to do as well: “To take chances, to be bold and to be ambitious.” There are many challenges that higher education is facing, such as the questioning of its value altogether, but Stoute sees it as an opportunity to reaffirm our beliefs, understandings and commitments to a transformative education and our Jesuit values, grounded in the liberal arts. The strategic plan aims to encapsulate all of these ideas and put them into action.
Academic Excellence and Innovation
President Stoute emphasized the importance of supporting students and finding new ways for students of Canisius to learn both inside and outside of the classroom. The pillar of Academic Excellence and Innovation includes ideas of developing new programs to help adult learners with career advancement and economic mobility, offer high-impact experiences such as ones offered by alumni to undergraduates, incorporate diverse perspectives and integrate new interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning. Many of these goals are achieved through the help of ideas that fall under other pillars being implemented early on in the plan being carried out.
He reflected, “We want each student that participates … to be able to leverage these incredible resources, the human resources and the people who care about our students and care about their experiences and success, to help our students understand themselves and their potential and also their leadership place in the world.”
While Stoute acknowledged the fact that there are limited resources. and not everything can be done all at once, the focus of the senior leadership team over the summer was to establish a sequence and determine which initiatives need to be launched this year and next year to start building the momentum that will ensure success over time.
The board meeting that will approve this sequence the first weekend of Oct., in which the team will go to the trustees and present them with their ideas. President Stoute spoke on the topic, noting that the list includes “a couple of things that I think are really interesting as it relates to students.”
He shared the idea of “thinking about technology and technology infrastructure and how do we — or can we — realistically implement a one-to-one device computing program, where every student when they come to Canisius as part of their experience is integrative technology, whether that be a laptop or an iPad, and you use that technology to engage academically.”
Student Success and Engagement
President Stoute believes that the pillar that we will be in need of and see the most growth from even before the plan is implemented completely is the pillar of Student Success and Engagement. He shared that he believes that the students of Canisius are very engaged and is proud of the atmosphere on campus, but that he also wants to be able to adapt and adjust more to the different class of students that come in each year. He shared, “Each class of students comes to us with a different background and a different set of expectations.”
“So we as an institution will constantly be challenged to adapt and adjust, because our students are changing so much,” he continued. “And [putting] all four undergraduate classes together … is a really interesting puzzle to solve.”
Relating to the idea of adapting and adjusting to meet the needs of all students, a bullet point under the Student Success and Engagement pillar states, “Leverage athletics and recreation to support an engaging and vibrant student experience.” In asking President Stoute what this meant, he replied, “The vibrant student experience [is what] I think … intercollegiate athletics and particularly at a division one level has the potential to create; this intense affinity and bond with the institution, not just for student athletes, but for all students.”
President Stoute hopes the strategic plan will help create an all-inclusive environment at every event and create a true campus community. He also reflected on the idea that Canisius does not have a football team anymore, similar to the undergraduate institution he attended, Seton Hall, which did not have one, either. He shared, “I have colleagues who went to very different institutions than I did, but I went to an institution that didn't have football.” He went on to say, “I have colleagues and friends who talk about their experience and they talked about football games.”
While they didn't always play football, “they remember the bonds that they formed on Saturday afternoons, hanging out with friends at a football game.”
Stoute continued: “Really, my hope is that we can create an environment where all of our students … years from now think back on their Canisius experience and they can… reflect on that one game or that one moment.” Stoute believes that it's a part of our history and tradition that he thinks we can leverage more to create those types of lifetime bonds to the institution. He concluded the thought on leveraging athletics by saying, “So that's, I think, one of the benefits of athletics in terms of creating a culture of engagement for our students.”
In regard to the pillar of Institutional Sustainability, Stoute shared that this pillar is related more-so to “our financial sustainability as an institution.” Under this pillar, Canisius plans to launch a fundraising campaign, recruit and retain a diverse workforce, and, according to “Answer the Call,” “re-invigorate a culture of philanthropy and leveraging sophisticated investment management practices.”
Bulleted under the pillar of Student Success and Engagement but relating to the longevity of Institutional Sustainability, the strategic plan stated that a mentorship program would be set into place. Touching upon this topic, President Stoute emphasized his hope that any students will be able to be involved in the mentorship program with people, such as alumni, who care so deeply about students’ success.
Our Campus, Our Community
Relating to the pillar of Our Campus, Our Community, as well as tangible ideas to be implemented soon, Stoute shared that the hope is to set up transformative learning experiences early on in the plan. This includes “undergraduate research, or internships, or study abroad or service learning.”
The final idea Stoute said he hopes to have implemented early on in the plan is answering the question, “How do we take all of the community service that students do and streamline it?”
“How do we organize that in a way that makes an outsize impact, rather than be spread out across hundreds of organizations?” he reflected. “It's a question for us to say, ‘Here are the causes that we care deeply about, here are the organizations that do that work, and we are going to leverage all of these tens of thousands of hours to drive meaningful impact in these ways so it is going deep in a few key areas, rather than going wide and spreading ourselves thin is the thought process.’”
Stoute referred to Shana Richardson, director of the New Buffalo Institute, and Spencer Liechty, director of Campus Ministry, as two individuals who have helped head the movement of beginning to get Canisius and its students more involved in community service both on and off campus.
Stoute said, “We need to listen and understand what our community needs and co-create a plan to help accomplish what our community needs, because that will ultimately benefit the institution and our people.”
Stoute reiterated that none of the ideas are “etched in stone”: rather, he believes that “that's part of the fun in the strategic implementation. We have great ideas to move the institution forward, but we have to continue the conversation to ensure that these things are workable for Canisius.”
The strategic plan Answer the Call is the start of a reinvigorated Canisius University, and Stoute hopes that the future holds greatness and many leaders to be made under the implementation of this goal-oriented plan.
On Being a Jesuit Institution
As a Jesuit institution, President Stoute strongly believes that the Jesuit values can be and are implemented throughout the entirety of Canisius.
He shared, “We talked about cura personalis and care for the whole person, and so from an academic perspective, that's the intellectual person, but from a student engagement and athletics and recreation perspective, it's the physical person.”
He went on to say, “Your physical health is equally part of who you are. And so when we think about caring for the whole person, how do we challenge you and stimulate you intellectually is important. … We, as a Jesuit institution, need to be attentive to each and every component.”