A Jewell for the ages
Ed Place, a member of the William Jewell College class of 1982, is the current Chair of the Board of Trustees. An accounting and psychology major, he is Chief Financial Officer at Citizens Bank and Trust in Gladstone, Mo. His daughter, Kristen, is a senior nursing major at William Jewell. Ed recently spoke with Achieve about Jewell past and present, along with his hopes for the institution’s future.
How have things changed on campus since your student days at Jewell?
Whenever you ask alumni how things have changed, they tend to compare their fond, selective memories with the current reality, and that’s probably a little bit unfair. The conversation probably starts with: “Well, when I was here…”
The College was actually a pretty insular place during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, I think the faculty, the students and the College as a whole are much more aware of what’s going on in the world and how that impacts what their future life might be. If you look at the curriculum, the College is challenging students to develop a larger world view and preparing them for their place in that world. And that’s a positive change.
One of the things that is different today is that we’re not as much of a full-time community. In today’s environment, we’ve got a lot of students who come to class and then they’re in their car to go back home or off to a job. The total college experience is best when it is a 24/7 experience, and we’re moving back in that direction. If you’re living off campus, you’re going to gravitate away from campus. Whether it’s in a social setting or a planned setting, the time you spend outside the classroom is a very important part of the overall living and learning experience.
Why do you think alumni should be excited about Jewell today?
One of the things I think alumni should feel very positive about is that Jewell is still the good place that it was when they had their Jewell experience. It’s a good place for a lot of reasons: because of the direct contact between professors and students; because of the quality of the students and the way they challenge each other to be even better; because of the comprehensive and intentional curriculum; because of the idyllic campus setting that we’ve got and the opportunities that come with being so close to Kansas City.
What I think should be exciting to alumni is the aspirational way that we’re looking at the future. The expectations that we’re setting are lofty ones, and we have a commitment to measure progress in serious and sometimes quantitative ways. There is a sense of accountability for moving the College forward, and we consistently talk about a culture of high expectations. As an alumnus, it is exciting to see that kind of thought process taking place.
Are there timeless values associated with Jewell that transcend generations?
We have historically been known as “The Campus of Achievement,” and I think that is a very appropriate reference that continues today. I’m always amazed at what our alumni have accomplished. A couple of weeks ago, I caught up with Zel Fischer, who is now a Missouri Supreme Court Justice. As you run into Jewell alums week-in and week-out, there are so many high achievers. If you look at the track record that we’ve got on prestigious fellowships and scholarships, that is something to be really proud of.
The other thing that endures is our commitment to a true liberal arts education. We have committed all our resources to providing the transformational experience that a true liberal arts education allows.
What are the major challenges and opportunities you have experienced during your service as Board Chair?
In terms of opportunities, a lot of positive things are happening in the area of leadership and achieving a common view, a clarity of focus, and a clarity of direction. When you have the board and the administration committed to a shared vision, you can really move things forward.
I think one of the major challenges is the current economic environment. Change—driving change and leading change—that’s hard work, even in the best of environments. An economic environment like the one we’re experiencing now has a lot of impact on a college like William Jewell in many ways. I think that increases the degree of difficulty in trying to drive a change process.
How would you describe this point in time in the 160-year history of William Jewell College?
I think we’re on the cusp of elevating the institution to a new and higher level. This College has the fundamental capabilities and qualities that will allow it to be an important resource for our region and our country. Through our strategic plan, we have identified the action steps that are necessary for us to break through to a new level. This is a very important time in the life of the College.
What are the major initiatives identified as part of the strategic plan?
One of the basic concepts that we talked a lot about early in the strategic planning process was creating a “virtuous cycle” in which one good thing leads to another. As we increase the quality of the educational experience, we increase the quality of the students we attract. Quality students attract even better faculty, because faculty want to work with talented students. Having an exceptional faculty in turn attracts an even higher caliber of students. You create this upward cycle that feeds on itself, and that process is certainly under way at Jewell.
The strategic plan addresses specifically the quality of the incoming students as well as the quality of the faculty. Once that upward cycle is in process, there are additional financial resources required to support a higher level of expectations. But if you have those two basic ingredients—high quality students and high quality faculty—the rest of the strategic plan becomes easier to achieve.
Why do you think the initiatives identified in the strategic plan are important to the future of Jewell?
We did a lot of benchmarking to identify a group of aspirant colleges that we ultimately want to be like and compete with. It didn’t come from a brainstorming session. It came from actually going out and looking at colleges and universities that are among the best in the country.
Dr. Sallee and his team did a really good job of digging into those aspirant colleges and universities and understanding what it is that differentiates them. So the list of outcomes that make up the strategic plan are very well thought out. The work we’ve done gives us confidence that when we do achieve those outcomes, then we’ll be in a different place.
It all comes back to people, and we have made good progress in that area. If you get the right people—faculty, students, administrators—they’ll be able to secure or attract the resources that are required. They’ll get the buildings built; they’ll come up with the right programs. But ultimately, you have to get the right people, and get them committed to a shared vision of what the College can be.
How would you gauge the progress to date?
I think the progress is outstanding. The foundation for that progress was the work that was done to allow a broad mix of stakeholders to have input in the plan, and then to go out and communicate and give people a chance to understand it. You can point to specific initiatives where very specific steps are being taken. Most recently, I’m thinking of the initiative to enhance the four year, on-campus living and learning experience; the announcement of the decision to pursue NCAA affiliation; the progress in terms of numbers of Phi Beta Kappa faculty members; and the facility enhancements. Those are absolutely in line with the strategic plan.
Where would you like to see Jewell in 10 years?
The strategic plan is a 10-year plan that encompasses the period from 2007 through 2017. So in 10 years, I’d absolutely expect to see us well down that path with a number of the initiatives completed and seeing real success with others.
If you think of our region’s iconic assets, you think of figures like Harry Truman or places like the Country Club Plaza. Wouldn’t it be absolutely fantastic for William Jewell to be on the short list of the area’s absolute premier assets? At that point, enrollment won’t be a challenge; attracting financial resources will be much less of a challenge. I don’t think that’s unrealistic—I think that’s within reach for us.