Trinity charts a course for the future
By Maura King Scully
As the summer of 2017 gave way to fall, the enthusiasm of another academic year brought more than a new group of first-year students to Trinity. Adding to the energy was the college’s new strategic plan, crafted by the Bicentennial Strategic Planning Commission and formally approved in October by the Board of Trustees.
Known as Summit, in reference to the college’s aspirations and a nod to its location on Summit Street in Hartford, the strategic plan was 18 months in the making and involved a broad cross section of members of the college community. The plan lays out a bold vision for Trinity’s future that would see the college taking its place as the leading liberal arts college in an urban setting.
A CLEAR MISSION
One of the first tasks in developing the plan was reviewing the college’s mission statement. “After doing focus groups with different constituents, we decided that our new mission statement needed to be both inspirational and aspirational,” says President Joanne Berger-Sweeney. An ad hoc committee tackled the creation of a new statement that would capture the essence of today’s Trinity. Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Cresswell and Vernon Roosa Professor of Applied Science Susan Masino spearheaded the process, which involved surveying key stakeholders, drafting three distinct versions, and soliciting feedback. The new mission was unveiled in October 2016: “Engage. Connect. Transform. As the preeminent liberal arts college in an urban setting, Trinity College prepares students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives.”
The new mission statement, Cresswell says, “sets a good tone that’s at the core of what we do.”
The new mission gave the commission and its five subcommittees context for its work. Each of the subcommittees surveyed, researched, and drafted a report, which was then posted online for community response. Once those reports were finalized, they were distilled into the strategic plan, a relatively brief document that outlines three overarching goals for the education Trinity provides, that education’s connections to the local community and broader world, and the financial and environmental sustainability of the college as it builds upon a nearly 200-year-old history. “The plan is short and deliberately so,” says Board of Trustees Chair Cornie Thornburgh ’80. “It’s meant to be a living, breathing document that will guide the way, not prescribe what’s to be done.”
Goal 1: “Provide a distinctive, relevant liberal arts education that positions Trinity as a first-choice destination for students, faculty, and staff.”
Goal 1 is the heart of the college’s educational mission. One of the most exciting developments in this area, according to commission member Chris Hager, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of English, is what’s being called the “32-plus curriculum.”
“Trinity currently requires 36 credits to graduate, while most of the other NESCAC colleges require 32,” Hager explains. The Learning and Skill Development Inside and Outside of the Classroom Subcommittee, which Hager co-chaired, recommends reducing the credit load to 32 while also requiring two additional experiential activities—including internships, study away, research with a faculty member, or community-based learning.
“We want to capture the exciting things that are already happening and have students make them intentional parts of their college careers,” he says. Though these specifics don’t appear in the short plan, Hager notes that they will be explored as part of the implementation process as the plan moves forward. Another recommendation is for all students to develop an e-portfolio of reflective writing during their four years. “The goal is to encourage students to think about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” he says. “The portfolio will also make advising easier and more effective in that different kinds of advisers—academic, career—will have consistent information.”
Increasing the college’s financial aid resources is critical to ensuring that Trinity attracts and retains talented students from all over the globe, says Angel B. Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success. “The price of higher education in America is increasing at a rapid pace, while the average family income remains stagnant,” he said. “At Trinity, we aspire to enroll students from all over the nation and globe regardless of their ability to pay. While we are a private institution, we serve the public good. In my opinion, Trinity increasing financial aid resources is not just the right thing to do, it’s a moral imperative.”
HARTFORD AND BEYOND
Goal 2: “Connect Trinity to Hartford and the world beyond to empower individuals and transform the world.”
One of Trinity’s competitive advantages over other small, liberal arts colleges is its location in a state capital. “We’re in an incredibly vibrant, international, medium-sized city. That’s where we have to make our mark,” says Cresswell. “Our challenge is to take all of the ways we interact with Hartford and consolidate them into a story that’s well told. Hartford already offers some diverse learning experiences, from internships to service learning. Our Caribbean and Latin American studies major [within the International Studies Program] connects students with the local community, creating urban global citizens with liberal arts training. At our bicentennial, I’d like Trinity to be seen as a most-valued partner in Hartford to address problems that the city is experiencing.”
The college is off to a good start with the opening of the Constitution Plaza campus in December 2017, according to Kathleen Kete, Borden W. Painter, Jr., ’58, H’95 Professor of European History, a member of the steering committee. “I am most excited about the plans for Trinity to develop its connections to Hartford through its downtown campus and through partnerships with area institutions, which might strengthen and serve both Trinity and our surrounding community,” Kete says.
FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
Goal 3: “Build on Trinity’s historic past to ensure a vibrant, sustainable future.”
Purposely broad like the other goals, this one includes environmental sustainability, building on efforts already under way, such as the college’s natural-gas-powered fuel cell and the effort to ensure that new buildings are carbon neutral.
It also has a lot to do with financial sustainability. “A small liberal arts setting, one where there are close relationships between faculty and students, is an expensive proposition,” says Thornburgh. “To ensure our fiscal integrity and to fully support this plan, we will be engaging in a comprehensive campaign.”
Plans for that effort will be mapped out in the months ahead. “The implementation phase will present a wide range of opportunities for investment,” says Vice President for College Advancement Michael Casey. Though the campaign’s parameters are still being defined, Casey predicts “a major component will be building our endowment. A stronger endowment allows us to sustain forward momentum regardless of the vagaries of the economy. Most important, it enables us to decide what we think is the best way to prepare students. Our approach to a liberal arts education, for example, particularly with its emphasis on providing complementary opportunities to apply classroom learning in real-world settings as outlined in the strategic plan, is deeply relevant to the challenges our students will face when they graduate.”
A STRONG START
Berger-Sweeney is excited about Summit and the flexibility it offers for the future. “It sets high-level goals for the institution. It will be a North Star for us, helping us make choices about what we need to do,” she says.
Thornburgh, who notes that the planning process allowed Trinity to discover and articulate what makes the college special, says that for the plan to be successful, everyone must engage with it. “It will alter and change as we go, through good, constructive conversation,” she says. “Our work isn’t done. It’s only beginning.”
For more about Trinity’s strategic plan, please visit summit.trincoll.edu.
AN INCLUSIVE PROCESS
Summit, Trinity’s strategic plan, is notable in a number of ways. It is the first such plan under President Joanne Berger-Sweeney. It is brief—just four pages plus introduction and closing. And it involved hundreds of people.
“In all, 80 people served as members of the commission and its five subcommittees,” says Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tim Cresswell. These included a steering committee, led by President Berger-Sweeney and composed of the two co-chairs of each of the five subcommittees of the Bicentennial Strategic Planning Commission, representatives from the Exempt and Nonexempt Staff Councils, the president of the Student Government Association, and the faculty secretary. The subcommittees were: Partnering with Hartford, A Global College, Learning and Skill Development Inside and Outside of the Classroom, Resources, and Facilities and Environmental Stability.
At every step along the way, the process was inclusive. “Anyone could volunteer—there was an open call for people to express interest in serving on one of the committees,” says Sonia Cardenas, dean of academic affairs and strategic initiatives. “We also had a number of public events where we asked for input. In addition, members of the community could submit comments online in response to the subcommittee’s final reports and the draft plan.”
Cornie Thornburgh ’80, chair of Trinity’s board, says, “Joanne was stalwart in making sure the entire community was engaged in a thoroughly introspective process. She wanted to be sure we ended up with a plan that was reflective of all different voices.”
Says Berger-Sweeney: “I’m enthusiastic about how integrative the final plan is. My hope is that everyone—alumni, students, faculty, and staff—can see themselves in the plan and wants to be part of it.”