WE HEAR QUITE A LOT ABOUT HOW our Northeast Wisconsin economy needs skilled workers, especially those with technical and applied skills. But in a world full of divisiveness and conflicting messages, a liberal arts education is also more important than ever, says outgoing St. Norbert College President Tom Kunkel.
“There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear, just generally, about modernism, about globalism — people are finding their lives being overwhelmed and overtaken by technology. They used to make a pretty good living assembling parts on a factory floor and it doesn’t work anymore because robots are doing it. There is a reason many people are anxious,” Kunkel said in an interview for this month’s cover story.
“Liberal arts colleges take a longer view, and part of our importance is to educate people so that they know something about history, they know something about philosophy, about religion, about the core sciences and literature. Having a good, well-rounded education makes a better person — and it makes a better citizen.”
Earlier this semester, Kunkel received a note from a recent graduate now working as a staff member for a congressional representative that affirmed her St. Norbert education prepared her to face challenges. He congratulated her in his reply.
“My point to her was, ‘God bless you, we need principled young people more than ever!’ On the one hand, you are trying to educate these young men and women so they can navigate the whipsaws of the modern world, but hopefully many of them are going to help create and shape that next iteration of the modern world so that it will be kinder, gentler and more expansive … that they’ll be change makers in the very best sense.”
Kunkel has been a change-maker himself in his nine years at the helm of St. Norbert. He took to heart the Norbertine tradition of communio, “a very deeply held sense of community and responsibility to one another.” He also embraced the college’s notion of “radical hospitality,” a concept ingrained in every student and faculty member to be welcoming to all. In his second year, he shared this concept with the community, launching the annual SNC Day, a campus-wide open house that draws some 20,000 every September.
By far the greatest changes during his tenure have been the more than $140 million in building projects, as well as new academic offerings that have boosted the college’s offerings as well as its image. Check out our cover story to find out how he did it, and how the college has changed thanks to the millions of dollars in “transformational gifts” generous community members made during Kunkel’s tenure.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that St. Norbert College was one of our first Insight Innovation Award winners — successful leaders are always striving for transformational change, or innovation, in their organizations. We’re gearing up for our sixth annual THINC! event, which will showcase and celebrate innovation on May 11.
This year’s keynote, John Sweeney of the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, will present on how the mindset he uses in improvisational comedy goes hand-in-hand with the creative process of innovation (see page 22). A high school classmate of the late Chris Farley of Saturday Night Live fame — and graduate of St. Norbert College — he’ll bring comedy and brain science together in his message about the creative mindset.
“The creative mindset is ours to choose, it’s ours to practice,” Sweeney says. “The more innovative mindset we can build — just like any muscle — the more innovative we’ll be.”
Stay tuned for more as we get closer to THINC!