A Whole New Ball Game At Chaminade
Despite educating thousands of students, Chaminade University’s worldwide acclaim rests on a couple of hours in 1982 when its underdog basketball team scored a 77-72 victory over No. 1-ranked University of Virginia, still regarded as the biggest upset in college basketball history.
More than a quarter-century later, with a new college president about to be inaugurated, could it be a whole new ball game?
Bernard Ploeger (“play-gur”), S.M., Ph.D. smiles at the sports analogy and says he’s ready to compete in Hawaii’s arena of academic leadership. And so is Kitty Wo, newly elected chair of the school’s influential board of regents.
Ploeger, known to students as “Brother Bernie,” was appointed Chaminade University’s ninth president recently, succeeding the late Sue Wesselkamper. Formerly executive vice president and provost of the university, he and Wesselkamper were close colleagues, working in tandem to revitalize Chaminade.
Ploeger, a Marianist educator, came to Chaminade in 2001 after serving as senior vice president for administration at the University of Dayton. The Ohio State University graduate is considered the chief architect of Chaminade’s strategic plan for 2008-13.
Wo calls Ploeger “the right man for the right time.” She hails his “keen intellect” and “kindness” as outstanding attributes for leading the university into a new chapter of dynamic growth.
They are teammates, really, to guide one of Hawaii’s historic educational institutions with a prominent place on the Kaimuki hills to new heights and directions.
Both expect to be very visible as institutional spokespersons and take Chaminade’s story to as many constituents and stake-holders as possible.
Ploeger says, “Among the gifts Sue gave to Chaminade was defining a sense of community again. I inherited enthusiasm to achieve significant goals.”
He also inherited a tradition of learning that has some noteworthy benchmarks:
* Hawaii’s only Catholic university.
* First private college in Honolulu to offer evening adult-learning programs.
* First degree-granting institution to offer course work on military bases.
* Pioneer in online learning (1995) with more than 60 online courses in 10 disciplines.
* Hawaii’s largest, oldest criminal justice educational program.
* Host of the NCAA Maui Invitational, one of local basketball’s top-producing revenue events since 1984.
Last fall, the university enrolled 1,000 day students and another 1,700 in graduate, evening and online classes. It offers 23 majors and programs.
This fall Chaminade welcomes more than 375 new students, a 15 percent increase in first-year students and a 16 percent increase in transfer students since last year. Approximately 50 percent of students are first-generation college enrollees. Thirty-eight percent of the students are Catholic.
Ploeger comments, “We believe our strong academic programs have begun to gain increased visibility.
In addition, the current economic climate has led many Hawaii students to take a closer look at what is available here at home.”
Strong programs in criminal justice and behavior sciences, education, pre-med and health careers, forensics sciences and professional studies have attracted students, especially when taught with low faculty-to-student ratios (an average of 16 students per class), according to Wo.
Among its faculty members is KSSK radio personality and MidWeek columnist Larry Price, as well as Dr. M. Lee Goff, director of Chaminade’s Forensics Sciences program and consultant to the TV shows CSI and CSI Miami.
“When I first came from Ohio,” says Ploeger, “I thought this is an unlikely place to have forensic sciences. I was unaware that the entire Pacific identification laboratory for the military is here in Hawaii.”
Chaminade also can take credit for some outstanding graduates in criminal justice. in fact, the last five police chiefs on Honolulu studied at Chaminade.
“Higher education’s value in society is measured by the quality of graduates,” the college president says. “If we don’t deliver on that promise, we fail as a university.”
Wo adds, “The American dream is still alive, but it is easier to achieve with a college education. Many of our first-generation college students are not just here to get degrees, but to help support their families and communities. College represents a unique opportunity for them.”
She also hails the merits of a small private college. “There is a lot to be gained in a small campus environment, where there are smaller classes and a mentoring approach to instruction.”
Wo’s involvement in Chaminade started with her father, Maurice Sullivan, founder of Foodland, who was a major contributor to the university’s facilities. She intends to continue an active involvement in fundraising and soliciting major gifts to the university.
In 2008, Chaminade’s net assets grew by 18 percent to nearly $40 million, due to infrastructure improvements and completion of the new Sullivan Family Library. The Atlantic Philanthropies has pledged $8 million to help renovate facilities to support a new nursing program, residence hall and related infrastructure.
But Wo and Ploeger know that academic leadership must go beyond numbers. They are simply enablers of a quality education and influencing students to be empowered and enlightened citizens.
“The board is representative of the constituencies we serve,” Ploeger states. “They are clear thinkers who are endowed with a sufficient level of skepticism and impatience to get things done. Only boards can provide that perspective.
“We feel strongly that generosity and compassion are two qualities that can make anyone’s life full and rewarding,” he says. “That’s why our campus ministry program is very popular. We aren’t looking to convert students, but we want them to have a strong foundation in faith, whatever their religion.
“And we want to help them to learn the joys of service to others. How many other colleges can say that?”
The public is welcome to Chaminade University’s inauguration of president Bernard Ploeger on Friday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m. at Hawaii Vocal Arts Ensemble concert at Mamiya Theatre and Saturday, Sept. 19, 2 p.m. mass at St. Patrick Church, 1124 Seventh Ave., followed by the investiture ceremony at 4 p.m. at Mamiya Theatre and reception in the courtyard. Free. Information: 735-4741.
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