Brian Bruess took the helm as the eighth president of St. Norbert College July 1. A 1990 graduate of St. Norbert, Bruess served in various leadership roles during his 21 years at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. (His wife, Carol, who is also a 1990 graduate of St. Norbert, is a professor at the University of St. Thomas, also in St. Paul.) Insight Executive Editor Margaret LeBrun sat down with Bruess to talk about his vision for the college.
I’m full of gratitude to be able to come home to St. Norbert College, back to the place that has meant so much to me and my wife Carol and my family, and to see it doing so well. I’m really grateful for the leadership of Tom Kunkel, who’s done an exceptional job the last nine years.
I graduated from St. Norbert College in 1990, then went to graduate school for five years, with a focus on human development of college-age students and how they learn, how they grow and how to create environments for them. I started at St. Catherine University in 1995 as the dean of students and for the last five years was the executive vice president and chief operating officer.
What’s on my mind now is the profound value and importance of institutions of higher education to society, economic growth and workforce development. We have a really cherished mission of being the only Catholic Norbertine liberal arts institution in the world. We’re performing well in terms of graduation rates, student satisfaction and student engagement in the employment sector or in their post-higher education experience. Our graduates are making a difference.
Higher education is facing a sort of perfect storm, a confluence of economic and demographic challenges to the basic accountability and value of higher education. We’re spending a lot of time thinking about how we can make the value of higher education clear to the world — not only for workforce development and economic purposes, but for building a citizenry that is responsible and engaged in a civic way. With all the unrest the world is seeing, there’s never been a more important time for graduates like those from St. Norbert College.
Their ability to speak and communicate and engage on issues that are important is absolutely related to their critical thinking development, their analytical skills and their ability to reason and reflect, their experience in diverse cultures and differences of opinion, of political ideology. Their capacity to understand and navigate those has everything to do with their sense of self. If we create an environment that understands that, we’re much more likely to generate the results that we expect.
St. Norbert College is known for what we call radical hospitality. Our belief is that if a student, a faculty member, staff person or visitor feels welcome, they feel valued — and their chances of succeeding and flourishing go up dramatically.
Building on this tremendous success and momentum that Tom and his leadership and faculty and staff have created, the next rightful area of focus is the essence of who we are. Our motto is docere verbo et exemplo, which means, “to teach by word and example.” The $140 million of construction we’ve seen in the last 10 years are the buildings that map our mission. Now we’re really focusing on what goes on inside these beautiful buildings.
One word we are using aside from human flourishing, is to “amplify,” on a very interpersonal level, on a community level and on an institutional level, to extend, enhance and make deeper our impact and our value to the region that we serve and the people who we serve. It’s very much what I call an abundance model. We are working from a position of strength, to extend our mission, to make it more purposeful, more meaningful — to have an enduring impact.
Partnerships and engagement with the community are going to continue to be hallmarks of the college. It’s a natural extension. We believe firmly that more education helps the individual person flourish, it helps their communities that they engage in flourish, it helps with workforce needs, with economic development. It makes a more vibrant engaging city, region, state.