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Trustees convene at Saint Mary’s College

Megan O'Neil | Thursday, February 23, 2006

Chair of the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees Debbie Johnson Schwiebert told students in an address Wednesday that their Saint Mary’s education is invaluable, encouraging them to take advantage of every opportunity the College offers.

“Professionally to the outside world, we are an absolutely stellar educational institution,” Schwiebert said in the West Wing of the dining hall. “Make no doubt about that, our reputation is know not only nationally but internationally.”

Schwiebert, along with other members of the Board of Trustees, is on campus for the quarterly Board meetings, which begin today. Trustees had a full schedule of activities Wednesday afternoon including visiting classes and touring the “Poetas y Pintores” art exhibit in the Moreau Gallery.

A 1974 Saint Mary’s graduate, Schwiebert said as a student she thought she would use her English Literature major to embark on a high school teaching career. Instead, she joined John Deere Company shortly after graduation, eventually advancing to her current position as director of the Communication Services Center of Excellence.

Schwiebert said the professional world of the 1970s was dominated by men who had never interacted with a woman on a professional level. One dealer initially refused to work with her. The wives of some of her colleagues were hesitant to allow their husbands to take business trips with her, Schwiebert said.

In the early months at John Deere – and throughout her 30-year career at the company – Schwiebert said she was able to rely on the leadership skills and Christian principles she learned at Saint Mary’s.

“Saint Mary’s College is committed to developing women to be leaders in the world of work, home, church and community and that is a distinct advantage … because they know you have that leadership training,” she said. “We are desperately in need of people today in the business world that are willing to stand up and lead and make decisions with integrity.”

The liberal arts education at Saint Mary’s teaches its graduates not only to think critically, Schwiebert said, but also grants them lessons in how to communicate ideas effectively both orally and in writing.

“I think we take it for granted here because it is our standard of operation,” she said. “It’s the way we do business, but it is a unique advantage that we have that is part of our liberal arts education.”

Schwiebert said some of her colleagues deny themselves professional opportunities because they are unable to speak in front of a group and are unwilling to learn the crucial skill. Conversely, Saint Mary’s students are well prepared for the professional world and are open to learning the things they don’t know, she said.

Schwiebert said a value-based education – like that offered by her alma mater – is critical in the business world today.

“Another thing we learn [at Saint Mary’s] is the key is how to act with good integrity,” she said. “There are many situations today in business where values are in question and people have difficulty living up to their values.”

Schwiebert said she explored her faith and looked to the Sisters of the Holy Cross to learn the value of service.

“The example [of service] of the Sisters is something you will carry with you because it is a visible sign of their commitment to women and the education of women,” she said.

Schwiebert said she was not conscious of the professional and life skills she was learning at the College but appreciated them in retrospect once she entered the workforce.

“All of these things are important and they are things that you learn here but I am not sure that we really understand while we are in college that those are the things you are acquiring. I know I didn’t.”

Out of her four years at Saint Mary’s also sprung life-long friendships, and Schwiebert encouraged students to develop and cherish similar bonds. Her group of friends has depended each other through painful times, Schwiebert said, including the death of a friend’s child and the illness of another’s husband.

“I have been blessed that my roommates from Saint Mary’s are still my friends today,” Schwiebert said.

As a woman’s career advances, it is important for her to consider carefully how she will spend her money, she said. Schwiebert recalled making her first $25 donation to Saint Mary’s – what then seemed like a large sum.

“I wanted to make sure that the wonderful experience I had here would continue,” she said.

The Board’s agenda for today and Friday includes the completion of a thorough review of the budget and discussion about growth at the College, Schwiebert said. Student Trustee Jill Vlasek and ten student government officers will attend various committee meetings.

Reporters are not permitted to attend the sessions.