President Welsh’s First Five Years
Soon after Marcia Welsh arrived at East Stroudsburg University as president in 2012, she asked staff members when the university held its annual gathering with community and business leaders to assess the region’s challenges and strengths.
“Everybody kind of gave me a blank stare,” recalls President Welsh. “So I said, ‘OK, we’re going to do this next year.’ In the fall of 2013, we had our first Economic Outlook Summit.”
Five years in, the annual summit attracts 300 people from numerous professions and sectors of the community to talk about issues such as housing, education and jobs in Monroe County and collaborate on solutions to problems.
“It’s good for our region to have those conversations and not just assume everything is OK,” Dr. Welsh said.
Shaking things up is a part of Welsh’s DNA. She has used her time as President of ESU to encourage innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship at the university and make it everyone’s mission to ensure students get a great education that is accessible and affordable.
To that end, she started a strategic planning process that is now titled Students First: Innovate ESU, which has helped change the ethos on campus.
“I think we’re much more innovative and creative than we were, much more willing to collaborate,” Welsh said. “The strategic plan broke down silos and focused on making ESU a student-centered campus.”
Today that’s evident in initiatives such as a group of Art + Design students starting their own company, New Mind Design, recent master’s degree recipient Blaise Delfino earning the top prize in the State System and TecBRIDGE Business Plan Competitions for his invention of adjustable earplugs, and a “Join the Flock” project of designer socks for charity influenced by ESU faculty including Art + Design Associate Professor David Mazure, Computer Science Professor Dr. Mary DeVito and Emerita Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education Dr. Patricia Pinciotti.
While Welsh was provost and vice president of academic affairs at Towson University in Maryland, she had designated money for 3D printing equipment and brought that same enthusiasm for additive manufacturing to ESU. Welsh realized early on that 3D printing would be a key skill for Art + Design students in today’s global economy and channeled a large donation toward buying 3D printing equipment.
“We were one of the first three institutions in the world to become a Stratasys Superlab. The other two were NYU and Columbia. It’s important to know that students who come to ESU get an education that rivals some much larger institutions,” she said.
“Our faculty embraced the new technology and it has changed the way the Art + Design program approaches the student learning experience and the way they do business,” she said. “3D printing really has opened the door of opportunity for our students. Right now, we’re identifying how to take the next step so that 3D printing can work across the colleges in other programs and disciplines. With all the challenges that face us in higher education, we have to think differently in our delivery; education is no longer one straight line from entering your first year of study to graduation.”
It’s that kind of innovation that has helped lead ESU to three consecutive years of enrollment growth at a time when many colleges, including others among the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, have seen declines.
When Welsh arrived, the ESU Foundation was facing numerous challenges, but with the help of trustees and community members, it has turned around.
“We now have fabulous leadership and employees in the ESU Foundation,” she said.
That’s reflected in the increase in the number and amount of scholarships the Foundation gives to students each year. Since 2013, the ESU Foundation has increased the total amount of scholarship money disbursed by 41 percent and the number of scholarships awarded by 15 percent.
Welsh so believes in the Students First strategic plan that she’s become known on campus for fixing problems she learns about through her direct contact with students using Twitter. In Spring 2013, she saw that students were upset over long lines at the Student Enrollment Center, waiting to take care of business.
“So I walked over to see things for myself. I said ‘What’s up?’” Welsh recalls. She learned the students were waiting for a physical copy of an intent to graduate form they needed. She asked at the Student Enrollment Center, ‘Why can’t they access form online?” Shortly after, the form was placed online and the problem went away.
“You can really tell a lot about what’s going on with your student body if you follow them on social media,” Welsh said.
It’s that kind of zeal to cut red tape that cultivates an atmosphere where students feel like more than just a number.
“Whenever I talk to faculty and staff members I always make clear that enrollment and retention is everyone’s job,” she said. “How this campus looks, how people perceive you on the phone, how you greet them if they come up to your desk, everything we do will be a part of the decision that’s made on whether to attend or to stay at ESU.”
In keeping with that mission, Welsh has signed dozens of articulation agreements with other colleges to accept their credits when students transfer. In 2015, she and ESU Provost Joanne Z. Bruno, J.D., partnered with Northampton Community College to fast-track the completion of a bachelor’s degree in business administration and provide a bachelor’s degree in nursing at NCC’s Bethlehem Township campus.
“Some students at Northampton are location-bound — they have child care issues, a job, or 101 other reasons why driving 30-40 minutes to East Stroudsburg might be more than they can do,” Welsh said. “They can’t continue their education. So we’ve moved the programs to them.”
Part of ESU’s strategic plan has also been to engage more with the community, and that mission came starkly into focus during Hurricane Sandy when the university was asked to open its doors to house people fleeing the storm.
“My immediate response was ‘Of course we would,’ Welsh said. “Why wouldn’t you help your community?’”
Koehler Fieldhouse was transformed into a mega-shelter with cots set up on the basketball court and the Red Cross and university volunteers doing everything from bringing in food to reading to the children of displaced families.
Welsh sleeps about five or six hours a night and that’s likely the only way she could be at all the campus and community events she attends.
“I think one of the most gratifying things for me is to see the number of students that I know or I’ve touched walk across the commencement stage and give me a hug,” she said.
Welsh is proud of the growing diversity on campus and the way the university community makes people of all races, nationalities and backgrounds feel welcome. To reach as many potential students as possible Welsh initiated a three-year branding and marketing campaign that produced new institutional and athletic logos, a new mascot – the Warrior – and a great new tagline: Where Warriors Belong.
That effort has resulted in a resurgence of Warrior pride, with students embracing the new logos on T-shirts and cheering the mascot at events.
“Probably more than any other university I’ve ever been affiliated with, today our students wear our gear, they wear red and black,” Welsh said. “They’re very proud of being ESU Warriors and I couldn’t be more honored to work for them.”
An interview with Dr. Welsh, which aired on Pocono Mountains Today can be found here.