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Inauguration Celebration of Winthrop University's 10th President
Jayne Marie (Jamie) Comstock

Investiture Remarks

When We are Called to Rise

Senator Hayes, Chairperson Bigham, trustees, Mr. Winthrop, distinguished guests, delegates, faculty, staff, students, alumni, citizens of South Carolina, and beloved friends and family, thank you for honoring us with your presence today as we commemorate the past, celebrate the present, and look onward and upward toward the future of Winthrop University.

The historical source of the word “inauguration” stems from the Latin word augur and can be traced back to ancient Roman rituals during which priests observed the behavior of birds to discern if it was the will of the gods for a public official to assume office. The Augurs believed that only some species of birds could yield valid signs – and of course, one of the most trusted species was the Eagle – bold and strong.

Today’s augurs are search committees and Boards of Trustees. I am most grateful that Winthrop’s search committee and trustees saw signs just over a year ago that I would be the right person to serve as the 10th President of Winthrop University. Thank you for the confidence and trust you have shown in me. Larry and I consider our leadership opportunity at Winthrop to be part of a sacred trust that we were called to perform in service for all of you assembled here and especially for our students.

I promise you that I will gather around me the most capable people I know and, with their input and your support, we will do all within our power and reach to steward this fine institution and put Winthrop and our students on the rise! 

Universities use inauguration ceremonies to mark the formal beginning of the president’s term of office and to provide a forum for new leaders to announce their vision for the future.   But, I emphatically believe that for a vision to have traction, it cannot come from new leadership. For a vision to have traction, it must come from the hearts and minds of the people who know the institution best and are committed to its continued success.

With this in mind, I used my first Opening Address to situate Winthrop within the national higher education context, to explain our enrollment growth imperative, and to identify important questions for us to discuss before establishing new strategic priorities for our university. 

Then, I listened and took notes.

I listened to our faculty, staff, students, alumni, senior leaders, and trustees.

I held Town Hall meetings, focus group sessions, an 8-city alumni tour, FaceTime and special meetings with student leaders, divisional and college meetings, senior leader and Board retreats, and dozens of conversations at city meetings, ball games, and in the grocery store.

Together we openly explored how Winthrop can and should rise to the challenges facing higher education today.

  • We talked about how best to serve the expanding student archetype that includes residential students, adult students over the age of 25, veterans, and working professionals who need a graduate degree to advance or change careers.
  • We talked about how best to address the concern for affordability that stems from the rising costs of college and increases in student debt.
  • We talked about how best to demonstrate not only our willingness – but also our strong desire – to be held accountable for student success, which is most often measured by retention and graduation rates.
  • We talked about how best to ensure that all Winthrop students have the opportunity to gain the essential learning outcomes produced by high-quality, high-impact practices like collaborative research and creative activity, study abroad, service-learning, and internships.
  • And, we talked about how best to serve our pressing national, state, and regional work force development needs by refreshing our programs and utilizing technology to broaden access and increase the percentage of adults with a high-quality college degree.  

The Winthrop University community embraced this need to broaden access to quality higher education as if we were called to rise.

Throughout our visioning discussions we challenged ourselves and each other to refresh our thinking and renew our strategies to ensure that all deserving students – regardless of demographic category or life experience – have access to the kind of quality education that an exceptional institution like Winthrop provides.

We determined that Winthrop sits at the intersection of quality higher education and access to higher education. From this nexus our vision is to redefine excellence in public higher education by integrating access and quality in a singular institution.

Access and quality are not mutually exclusive – never have been. In fact, this integrated approach is part of Winthrop’s evolving DNA. From its inception in 1886, Winthrop University – then known as Winthrop Training School – provided quality education and characterized the “new age” of enlightened society in the South. Yet, tuition remission was available for students unable to pay the $2.00 per month cost of attendance. And, until 1955, Winthrop students were required to wear uniforms so that the wealthiest girl in school could not be distinguished from her peers who came from families with modest means. 

Fifty years ago – in 1964 just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act – Cynthia Plair Roddey enrolled as the first black student at Winthrop. This courageous Rock Hill native earned her Master of Arts degree in teaching in 1967 and blazed a trail of access for others to follow.

Winthrop currently ranks among the Top 10 public, regional comprehensive universities in the South, according to US News. However, unlike other top-ranked institutions, Winthrop steadfastly defines excellence as “inclusive” rather than ‘exclusive” and refuses to sacrifice quality, while we open doors to all deserving students who want to transform their opportunities through education.

Winthrop is the university of choice for a diverse array of achievement- oriented, and socially responsible students. We can be distinguished from our in-state peers because 312 Palmetto Scholars – students who are among the best and brightest from South Carolina – currently are enrolled at Winthrop. 

Winthrop can be distinguished from the other Top Ten public comprehensive institutions in the South because 39% of Winthrop’s students come from families with modest means and are eligible for Pell Grants. This is 14% higher than the average percentage of Pell-eligible students for the top-ranked public comprehensives in the South.

Winthrop can also be distinguished from other top institutions because 33% of our undergraduates are domestic minority students. This is 18% higher than the average minority student population for the Top Ten public universities in the South.

Clearly, we have embraced the “inclusive excellence” ideal. We believe that academic excellence is enhanced by an inclusive, rather than exclusive, approach to admission and access because we believe that the most impactful educational experience requires exposure to diverse views and the opportunity to live and learn alongside diverse others.

Through our contemporary version of delivering quality and access in a singular university, Winthrop will become an institutional leader in advancing the higher education attainment agenda.

While we increase the higher education attainment rate for our state and the nation, we will ensure that all Winthrop alumni are prepared to be successful in their chosen careers, engaged in our democratic society, responsive to local and global concerns, and grounded in values that give meaning to their lives.

As an institution, we will rise by lifting our students from where they are, to their fullest level of potential.

We will challenge the well-prepared student, and support the challenged student. And, in so doing, we will create transformative experiences for all of our students.

Our new vision to define excellence by offering quality and access in a singular institution promotes both individual achievement and the greater good. Our new vision recognizes that, in the United States and in South Carolina, higher education serves three primary, interrelated purposes:

  • To fuel our nation’s and our state’s economic engine through work-force development and inspiring entrepreneurs;
  • To prepare people for democratic citizenship and social responsibility through exposure to the liberal arts, diverse people and experiences, and challenges that develop higher levels of intellectual, ethical, and moral reasoning.
  • To promote professional success and social mobility by recognizing the fundamental connection between quality of education and equality of opportunity.

Our new vision accents our values-oriented culture and is tethered to our long-standing mission to integrate liberal arts, professional programs, global education, and civic engagement while providing personalized and challenging undergraduate and graduate education of national caliber.

With a Top Ten regional public university ranking; numerous other awards from publications like the Princeton Review and Washington Monthly; and specialized accreditation wherever it is possible, we have ample external evidence that we are delivering on our mission and have carved out a distinctive institutional niche for Winthrop University.

For our new vision to put us on the rise, however, we needed to look onward and upward to establish university-wide strategic priorities and to adopt a set of related, national-caliber performance goals that directly target improvements in quality and impact. The strategic priorities will direct our human and financial resources in support of our vision over the next five years. The performance goals will help us to stay disciplined and to hold ourselves accountable for student success.

Our six strategic priorities for the next five years are:

  • Promote access and degree attainment for an increasing number of diverse traditional, post-traditional, and graduate students
  • Continually enhance the quality of the Winthrop University Experience for all students
  • Forge new and solidify existing government, organizational, and business partnerships for mutual benefit
  • Create a “Great Colleges to Work For” campus culture characterized by collaborative decision making, transparency, civility, fair wages, and investment in the professional development of our faculty and staff
  • Uplift our institutional profile regionally and nationally in ways that support the value of a Winthrop University education
  • Cultivate a “culture of philanthropy” that will enable our rising aspirations

Please focus with me as I address the justification, expected impact, and initial activities for each of these six uplifting strategic priorities.

Access and Degree Attainment

When I accepted the job as President of Winthrop, I pledged to make degree attainment a high priority at our university. The campus community also embraced this challenge with the full appreciation for a vision of America’s future that includes increasing from 40% to 60% the percentage of adults in our country with completed college degrees and certificates.

Beyond the obvious desire for a well-educated electorate, this higher education attainment goal is important because by 2018 – in just four years – about 65% of U.S. jobs will require some level of postsecondary education. Similar work-force development requirements are expected in South Carolina. According to a recent study sponsored by the Competing Through Knowledge initiative, unless South Carolina starts to make serious degree-attainment change today, by 2030 our state will have a shortfall of more than 70,000 workers with a bachelor’s degree.1

That is, unless we make changes we will lose more jobs to our international competitors and we will broaden our country’s earning power divide.

I am proud to say that Winthrop makes a substantial contribution to closing the higher education attainment gap for South Carolinians. Nearly 90% of our students are from South Carolina and about 38,000 Winthrop alumni make South Carolina their home. Clearly, Winthrop is part of the “brain gain” solution for the Palmetto State.

Still, our university has arrived at a “strategic inflection point” pressing us to realize that we have the capacity and obligation to make it possible for more deserving male and female in-state students to have access to the kind of quality education that Winthrop University provides. We also have the capacity to serve a modest increase of male and female high-achieving, out-of-state students that will bring a diversity of backgrounds and experience to our campus community.

By acting deliberately to create the Division of Access and Enrollment Management and to hire an expert to lead this area, I have laid the groundwork for access and enrollment growth for traditional, post-traditional, and veteran undergraduate students. By working with the Provost to empower the Dean of the Graduate School, I have also sparked enrollment growth initiatives at the graduate level.

With these structures in place, we will rise to the challenge of promoting access and degree attainment through increasing our student population by at least 1000 students by Fall 2018.

We will need to devise a number of incremental goals and related tactics to achieve this level of enrollment growth without sacrificing quality. And we will start with a plan for growth within each segment of our student body.  However, at this point, I know we will need to:

    (a) expand student housing options for our traditional students;
    (b) create accelerated course offerings and provide convenient facilities and services for our busy adult students;
    (c) deliver more on-line and technology-enhanced courses; and
    (d) package our degree offerings into a vision-driven, market-smart program mix at all levels.

In addition to supporting the attainment agenda, growing the student population produces the happy by-product of decreasing our administrative expenses per student and promoting affordability for all students. However, truly promoting degree attainment requires a deliberate focus on--and concomitant willingness to be held accountable for--retention rates, graduation rates, and affordability.

Our freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate of 73% is higher than the national average for comprehensive universities, in large part because we already follow best practices for student engagement and academic success programs.

Still, all eight of the regional public institutions ranked higher than Winthrop by U.S. News, also have higher retention and graduation rates than we do. This means that if we are to rise in the rankings from the Top Ten to the Top Five, we must raise our retention rate to at least 82%, which is the average retention rate of our aspirant group.  We also must raise our graduation rate to 68% -- which is, again, the average for our aspirant group.

As our retention rate increases, our graduation rates will naturally follow. But, we also need a deliberate focus on graduation rates because many students in good academic standing drop out after their sophomore year, most often citing that they simply can’t afford to stay in school.

And, friends, that is an unnecessary loss of human potential that I simply cannot abide.

Our next level of progress in improving retention rates and degree attainment will require an unprecedented focus on increasing affordability. However, I have resolved that we will not sacrifice quality to reduce costs. Institutions that sacrifice quality to decrease costs may make short-term gains. But, in the long run, they also decrease their potential to attract and retain students.   In the long run, sacrificing quality to increase affordability just doesn’t work.  We have to increase affordability in other ways.

Increasing affordability at Winthrop requires a partnership with state government and a three-pronged approach:

First, we must implore our partners in the Legislature to restore state funding based on the impact our programs provide.

Second, we must do our part to (a) reduce our “expense per student FTE” by adopting administrative efficiencies and to (b) lessen students’ “time to degree” by removing unnecessary curricular barriers.

And, third, we must offer additional need-based scholarships so that more students can afford to enroll at Winthrop and also afford to stay in school and graduate with minimal debt.

Currently, Winthrop meets 62% of our students’ financial need and the most recent comparisons show that Winthrop students graduate with the lowest average debt in South Carolina. Still, we know that the average Winthrop student debt of over $20,000 can seem daunting to recent college graduates striving to provide a safe, secure and happy life for themselves and their families. Therefore, we have established a goal to meet 80% of our students’ financial need.

Movement toward this goal will support our access, attainment, and affordability priorities.

Bottom line: We envision a future at Winthrop where students gain access and attain a degree based on their ability to learn, not on their ability to pay.

Enhance the Quality of the Winthrop Experience for All Students

Although I am committed to “inclusive excellence” and making our high-quality Winthrop degrees affordable, I am keenly aware that our continued ability to attract and retain high-achieving, socially responsible students also depends on maintaining the additional elements of quality that define the Winthrop University Experience.

Winthrop is part of the Association of American Colleges and Universities Campus Action Network for a program called Liberal Education and America’s Promise or LEAP. The LEAP initiative challenges the tradition of providing liberal education to some students and narrow training to others. LEAP institutions help all students – regardless of their major – prepare for personal and professional success in the 21st Century through exposure to the liberal arts and by achieving a set of “essential learning outcomes” that are now the national benchmark for undergraduate learning in America.

I have been involved with the LEAP program for several years and am proud to say that, upon my appointment as President of Winthrop University, I was invited to join the leadership group within the LEAP initiative called the Presidents’ Trust.  This group of 100 presidents from across the country is expected to engage with campus and key external stakeholders about the value of the essential learning outcomes fostered by liberal arts education.

Performing this responsibility is a professional joy for me, as I firmly believe there is nothing quite as valuable or practical as an education grounded in and inspired by the liberal arts.

The essential learning outcomes produced by this approach to higher education include:

  • Knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world
  • Intellectual and practical skills like critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, information literacy, team work and problem solving
  • Personal and social responsibility skills including ethical reasoning, intercultural competencies, and civic knowledge and engagement
  • Integrative and applied learning, which represent the deeper levels of learning across general and specific areas of study

Winthrop engenders these quality-defining, essential learning outcomes through the delivery of 10 profoundly effective high-impact practices, and we do so through an award-winning model of seamless connections among academic affairs, student affairs, and athletic programming.

We know for sure that high impact practices have a positive impact on student retention and degree attainment, as well as on a student’s first post-baccalaureate experience, whether it be work or graduate school.  Fortunately, we reach most segments of our student population with six of the high-impact practices including first-year experiences, common intellectual experiences (like the common book), learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments, and capstone courses.

But, we also know for sure that life circumstances preclude many students from accessing their opportunity to participate in the remaining four practices known to produce the deepest levels of learning.

Many of our students – particularly first generation students, veterans, and adult students – have work or dependent care obligations that render them unable to take advantage of the most highly engaging and impactful educational practices. They simply can’t afford or don’t have time for collaborative research and creative activity, study abroad, service-learning, and internships.

Guided by the strategic priority to enhance the quality of the Winthrop University Experience for all students, we will launch new efforts to ensure that all Winthrop students have the opportunity to access the high-quality opportunities we offer.

And, we are already off to a good start.

I am pleased to announce that the American Council on Education has recognized Winthrop’s commitment to ensure the equality of educational outcomes for all our students by accepting our recent application to the ACE Change and Innovation Lab, funded by a grant from the Lumina Foundation.  As one of only 10 universities nationwide selected for this initiative, starting next week we will begin participation in an 18-month project to implement our new Change and Innovation program appropriately called RISE: Realizing Investments in Student Engagement.

The RISE Program will provide intensive academic counseling and career mentoring to all first-generation, undergraduate freshmen and transfer students, regardless of their age. RISE also will deliver alternative programming designed to allow these students to engage in high-impact opportunities that will enhance their prospects for degree attainment and post-degree success.  Opportunities that reduce or eliminate resource barriers like time, money, and logistics also will be individually structured to meet student needs.

The RISE program will provide real help to students with aspirations to be like 1989 graduate Roy Weathers. A first-generation college student from Blacksburg, S.C., Roy earned a degree in accounting from Winthrop, went on to earn a master’s degree, and is now a partner and the New York Metro Region Tax Leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers. There are only three people in this leading corporation who operate at Roy’s level. As a first generation student from a rural community, Roy clearly made the most of his time at Winthrop and accepted the Dare to Rise.

To augment the RISE project, we also will launch special efforts to target increased participation in collaborative research, study abroad and service learning, all of which will benefit our individual students and our institutional reputation.  In fact, we already have momentum going on a few of these initiatives.

Last month, as part of our institutional commitment to global education, Winthrop joined the Generation Study Abroad Commitment by invitation from the Institute of International Education. In 2011-2012, the most recent year for which comparative data is available, about 2 percent of Winthrop students studied abroad – 96 undergraduate students and 7 graduate students, for a total of 103 students.  By Fall 2012, we had increased the number of students who graduated with a study abroad experience to 7%.

In joining Generation Study Abroad we pledged to triple the number of Winthrop students studying abroad by the end of the decade.

I believe we will easily surpass this goal through on-going efforts and by implementing our new Global Ambassadors Scholarship program, which helps recruit out-of-state students and provides support for these scholars and other qualified in-state students to study abroad. This scholarship program is designed to recruit 50 new students per year for a total of 200 students participating at the end of four years. I am pleased to report during this first year of recruiting for Global Ambassador Scholars we have received more qualified applications that can be admitted to the program.

 

As we support student engagement in study abroad, we uplift the student participants and elevate our reputation as an institution that better prepares students for global citizenship and the 21st Century work place.

Financial assistance for study abroad will provide real help to students with aspirations like those of Winthrop alumna Sonya Gary. Sonya earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology in the mid-1990s and now is thriving in today’s global economy as a vice president at Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong. As a young woman from Greenville, S.C., who has successfully immersed herself in Chinese culture, Sonya made the most of her Winthrop experience. She also established the Sonya Gary Scholarship in 2012 so more psychology students like her could also accept the Dare to Rise.

Like study abroad, service learning and community engagement also produce deep levels of learning for students. Last year, Winthrop students delivered more than 63,000 measured hours of community service in York County alone. These efforts, and others like our wildly successful Book-a-Rama day of service yesterday, earned Winthrop a place on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the past eight years.

We are proud of the impact our students have in service to Rock Hill and York County. However, for Winthrop to earn a place on the Honor Roll “with distinction,” to make service learning and community activities accessible to all students, and to maximize our community impact, we need to ensure that more students have the opportunity to participate in service-learning and community-engagement activities.

Toward that end, I created the Office of Community Engagement and Impact and set an agenda for invigorating community service collaborations that I like to call our CommUniversity partnerships.  This program, which will complement our existing civic engagement activities, involves scholarship and other financial support for students who work in community-based learning environments.

The plan is that these initiatives will fully inflate Winthrop’s positive impact on the community and make it possible for more of our students to acquire the full range of learning outcomes that derive from service-oriented, hands-on learning experiences, including the life-changing realization that they, too, can dare to rise by lifting others.

Forge New and Solidify Existing Partnerships

Universities depend on several types of partnership to advance education and other institutional priorities. In addition to the CommUniversity partnerships involving students learning from their service to Rock Hill residents, we should also forge and solidify innovative and fruitful partnerships with government, business, educational, and not-for-profit organizations in order to advance our mutual success.

Winthrop is surrounded by potential partners with reciprocal interest or mutual needs. We can reach our shared goals more quickly if we work together, as we have with the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation on projects like Knowledge Park;  or with York Technical College by creating the Bridge Program; or with local businesses and schools that exchange work product for providing near-professional opportunities for our students and applied research opportunities for our faculty; or with not-for-profit organizations that can extend their services through the volunteer efforts of Winthrop faculty, staff, and students;  or with the City by sharing space and resources in exchange for financial support as we have with some of our sports venues.

Could we do the same with a library, performing arts venues, or expanded athletic facilities? Maybe so.

Winthrop University should not be an isolated Ivory Tower. Instead, we invite our civic partners to join us as we become more like Governor John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” — embracing our responsibility “to uphold a familiar commerce together...to make others’ conditions our own...to always have before our eyes, commission and community in our work.” 2

With this in mind, as long as I am President, Winthrop University will recognize that the success of our university is inextricably linked to the success of our neighbors and the surrounding community. We are aware of and embrace our responsibility to meet the technologically advanced education and work-force development needs of our constituents. And, we will continue to seek ways to uplift the economic, recreational, cultural, and intellectual development of our home community. In return, we ask members of the community to continue to partner with us for mutual benefit and relief.

Become a “Great Colleges to Work For”

As we strive to make Winthrop the university-of-choice for an increasing number of high-achieving students and a powerful resource for our community and state, we also should strive to make Winthrop the university-of-choice for talented and highly qualified faculty and staff.

Toward that end, as many of you know, Winthrop is participating, for the first time, in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Great Colleges to Work For survey. Results of the survey, which are expected in August, will reveal faculty and staff perceptions of Winthrop’s working environment.  We also have expanded shared-governance opportunities by supporting the creation of a Staff Assembly.

I believe we are heading in the right direction.

Just this week, Winthrop’s Division of Student Life was selected as a national “Top 30 Promising Places to Work in Student Affairs,” through a collaborative project between the American College Personnel Association and Diverse Issues in Higher Education. This new designation flows from a study that examined administrative structures, commitment to diversity, and workplace staffing practices in student life divisions. We certainly are pleased and proud (but not at all surprised) that our Student Life division is considered among the best places to work in the country.

To further strengthen the commitment to a positive campus culture, I am pleased to share with you that I have signed onto the National Challenge for Higher Education aimed at “Retaining a 21st Century Workforce.” By committing Winthrop as a coalition partner to this ACE-sponsored challenge, I agreed to advance excellence at Winthrop University by broadly and equitably implementing work-place flexibility as a tool to enhance the recruitment, retention, advancement, and retirement of faculty at all levels within our institution. Although the ACE challenge focuses on faculty, I intend to work within the state constraints to implement work-place flexibility for staff, as well.

I am committed to nurturing a campus culture characterized by collaborative decision making, transparency, civility, fair wages, and investment in the professional development of our faculty and staff. The visioning process exemplifies my commitment to transparency, evidence-based decisions, and willingness to engage openly in difficult, collaborative conversations.

Through the visioning process, I developed confidence in the Winthrop community’s ability to face issues squarely, rise above personal agendas, and take the long view when considering our strategic priorities.

From my view, Winthrop already is a great place to work.

Uplift Our Institutional Profile

In many ways, perception is reality. So, every day that I walk down Alumni Drive and up the steps of Tillman, I’m “Walking on Sunshine” with a purpose. But, despite my positive perceptions of all things Winthrop, I know that if we are to achieve our vision of redefining excellence in public higher education, we must uplift our university profile regionally and nationally in ways that accent our institutional strengths and the value of the Winthrop University educational experience. How Winthrop University is perceived by potential students, their parents, alumni, donors, legislators, the news and sports media, employers, graduate school admission committees, and higher education professionals across the country dramatically impacts our ability to put Winthrop and our students on the rise.

As an initial step to enable enrollment growth and institutional visibility, we will need to refresh our marketing strategies and institutional messaging at all levels and across all platforms. As an example, Winthrop adopted the Live Learn Lead messaging plan in 2004, three years before Apple launched the I-phone and the same year that our current crop of prospective traditional students was in first grade. The messaging is not bad, or wrong, it is just “tired.” Over the next several months we will engage in a process designed to identify the messages and medium that will resonate with contemporary and future students, our alumni, and other constituent groups.

As we move in this direction, we will, of course, retain our school colors and mascot, and take great care to ensure that our new messaging reflects a contemporary manifestation of our institutional vision, our enduring values, and the elements of quality that characterize Winthrop University.

Cultivate a Culture of Philanthropy

A new messaging campaign is not all we need to enable our rising aspirations. In this climate of dwindling state support, we must also shape a culture of philanthropy if we are to fulfill our pledge to maintain affordability, while at the same time supporting salary increases, instructional and student engagement programs, and quality across the board that is accessible to all deserving students who want to transform their lives through education.

To inspire progress toward a culture of philanthropy, I constituted the Division on Institutional Advancement and hired an experienced advancement professional to lead this integral area. I also worked with the Winthrop University Foundation Board to bolster leadership that has already strengthened Foundation operations and protocols.

In a true culture of philanthropy, fundraising is viewed and valued as a mission-aligned university program of work, with accountability for fundraising results shared across the organization.  Universities with a culture of philanthropy are the most effective at fundraising because their cultivation efforts are coordinated by the development staff, but the responsibility for fundraising is assigned to and embraced by alumni and everyone in the university community from the board members to the faculty and staff.

Stories of individual, foundation, and corporate support for Winthrop begin with the Peabody Fund and Robert Charles Winthrop’s initial donations and continue through the decades --  from the formation of the alumni association in 1889, the creation of the Foundation in 1973, the first million dollar endowment from the Pamplin family in 1993, the successful completion of the “Lasting Achievement Campaign” in 2003 and the launch of the “Distinction” campaign in 2011.

Today, I am pleased to announce that, this past December, we received the largest known gift in Winthrop’s history. This gift of just over 2.2 million dollars came to us as a bequest from Dr. Ann Coleman Peyton. Dr. Peyton, who spent most of her professional life as a professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, had family ties to the Carolinas and a cousin who attended Winthrop, before she was killed in a car accident.  Dr. Peyton’s generous donation is designated to support scholarships for theater majors. These scholarships will have a meaningful impact on our ability to recruit talented theater majors, and they will make going to college and completing a degree a real possibility for deserving students.

In the wake of this substantial gesture of support for access and attainment for theater students at Winthrop, I was inspired to conceptualize the Dare to Rise Fund, as a special initiative that will support students in all majors and bolster the vision of Winthrop as uniquely positioned to offer quality and access in a singular institution.

The Dare to Rise Fund will galvanize a spectrum of initiatives designed to ensure the highest caliber of instruction and support for students and allow Winthrop to promote a program of “inclusive excellence” through need-based financial aid.   The Fund serves as a bridge connecting the successful past with a promising future and aligns with my steadfast belief that all students – regardless of their demographic category or life experience – deserve the kind of education that an exceptional institution like Winthrop provides.

Through the Dare to Rise initiatives, third generation college students like me will be challenged to rise to their full potential alongside first generation college students like Roy Weathers, as well as Winthrop legacy students like Eddie Lee.

Eddie Lee graduated with a degree in history in 1983, earned a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, and now is a tenured faculty member in his home department. Dr. Lee is one of 34 full-time Winthrop faculty members with at least one degree from Winthrop.

As the mayor of York and a third-generation Winthrop graduate, he was inspired to dare to rise by his mother who graduated in 1932 and his grandmother who graduated in 1896.  She was part of the first class of Winthrop students to graduate from the Rock Hill campus.

Unfortunately, time does not allow for me to share all of the inspiring stories I have heard about our fabulous Winthrop alumni. Throughout all of the accounts I have heard, however, there is a single thread – let’s call it “a blue line”— that weaves the stories into an impressive mosaic of legacy and opportunity.

The goals of the Dare to Rise Fund support that mosaic and seem to resonate with many people who view higher education as a way to ignite individual potential, inspire individual achievement, and improve life in our state and in our nation.

Larry and I made the first monetary contribution to the Dare to Rise idea, and I am happy to announce our vision for the future already has traction! Today, just 7 weeks after the fund was announced in the inaugural mailings, 258 people have collectively contributed more than $1,100,000 to support our vision of integrating access and quality in a singular institution and making degree attainment a reality for all deserving students who want to transform their opportunities through higher education.

Contributors include 100% of the members of our Board of Trustees, President’s Advisory Council, Senior Advancement staff, and the Academic Leadership Council. And, the fund also has received dozens of contributions from faculty, staff, retirees, alumni, and friends of our university.

Each gift is a show of support that strengthens our resolve to deliver education that challenges the well-prepared student and supports the challenged student. Each gift sets an Eagle soaring as an augur’s sign that it is our time to lead this university.

Winthrop University is at a “strategic inflection point” in its institutional history, and, friends, we have been called to rise.

We have answered that call with a bold, optimistic vision that uniquely positions Winthrop to redefine excellence in public, higher education. To achieve our aim of integrating quality and access in a singular institution we have collaboratively outlined six strategic priorities, and I have established several stretch goals that will shoot Winthrop to the top of any ranking that measures accountability for student success.

Can we reach our rising aspirations?

I believe we can.  We already have momentum and I believe we are closer than it may seem to those who have toiled here much longer than I.

In her poem “We never know how high we are” Emily Dickinson wrote:  
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.

With these wise words in mind, I believe that we can and will achieve the vision and goals we have for our university and our students, for we have faced our challenges head on and answered “yes” with a resounding, collective voice when we were called to rise.

Together, we will deliver the highest caliber educational experience and sustain a challenging and supportive learning community in which our students rise to their full potential.  Together, we will shape a campus culture characterized by collaboration and mutual respect, where our faculty and staff feel truly valued and can rise professionally. Together, we will embrace our responsibility to serve the citizens of Rock Hill, York County, and the state of South Carolina to promote work-force development and social mobility.  And, together we will steward this institution onward and upward through the currents rocking higher education today to ensure that “the best is yet to come” for Winthrop University.

Always onward. Always upward. Winthrop ever stand.


1 South Carolina’s Education-Workforce Matchup: 2013-2030: Identifying the Higher Education Needs of the 21st Century. Prepared for the Competing Through Knowledge Initiative of the South Carolina Business Leaders Higher Education Council by Douglas P. Woodard and Joseph C. Von Nessen, Division of Research, Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina. Publically released March 6, 2014.

2 Excerpt from Governor John Winthrop’s sermon A Model of Christian Charity, delivered in 1630 on board the Arbella as redacted by John Beardsley, Editor in Chief, the Winthrop Society Quarterly, 1997

Onward. Upward. Winthrop Ever Stand.
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