Seton Hill has new administration, new vision

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Seton Hill University’s new president has already met with community leaders to continue the strong partnership the college has with the county and city of Greensburg.

Mary C. Finger, 55, assumed her new post on June 1, and is eager to continue the success of the college. She was a vice president at DePaul University in Chicago for the past nine years.

“I am so pleased to be here,” she said, “Seton Hill is a wonderful place, and a successful place with wonderful people. I expect to be a good steward to all that has been accomplished before me."

“This school has had strong financial and academic success,” she said. “It’s on an upward trajectory - with increased enrollment and a strong partnership with the county and city.”

“It’s actually a model for that,” she said. “We have great facilities on the hill and in the city, too. And there are increased economic benefits to the city. Our new performing arts center in Greensburg is open and restaurants and coffee shops in the area are happy for that. It is helping to revitalize the community.”

"We’ve made a $130 million investment in economic development in the last decade, so we have a strong partnership,” she said.

The university is currently building a dance and visual arts center on West Otterman Street, near the performing arts center, which will include a community dance program.

The opening of a branch of LECOM (Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine) on Seton Hill’s campus four years ago also has helped invigorate the region’s economy. Several Greensburg buildings have been renovated or constructed to meet the needs of students living off-campus.

Ms. Finger said about 43 percent of the school’s upper classmen live on campus, which means many students choose to live in city apartments when they become juniors and seniors. Freshmen are required to live on campus, except those who commute.

The school has 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students.

County Commissioner Ted Kopas, who met last week with Ms. Finger, said, “Seton Hill is a very important partner in the redevelopment of the county seat, and I have every confidence that she will build on their success."

“What brought me here is a strong sense of community on this campus,” Ms. Finger said. “There is a concern for the success of the students that is pervasive among everyone here - from faculty to staff to the custodians. You feel the community, and everyone has been very welcoming.”

Seton Hill has received national recognition for its innovative use of technology, quality of education and affordability, she said. The school was one of the first in the nation to provide students with iPads, and the magazine U.S. News & World Report named the school to its list of the best regional colleges in the North and as one of the best values.

Ms. Finger said the co-educational Catholic school prides itself on providing a solid liberal arts education, but also in preparing students for work in Western Pennsylvania.

She said 94 percent of the class of 2013 was either employed, in a higher learning setting or in the military after graduation.

The fields of health and science are some of the school’s strongest programs.

“We know we need to meet the needs of our students to find jobs in the marketplace, and health care is a big one; nationally, it is No. 1 for employment,” she said.

“We have more than 500 students in the fields of health and science,” Ms. Finger said. That includes their physician’s assistant program, and chemistry and biology programs.

"LECOM just graduated its first class of doctors and now has 400 medical students,” she said.

“Our business program has 350 students," she said, in undergraduate areas of accounting, business administration, sports management and an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) program, as well.

The university's performing and visual arts programs are also very popular.

Seton Hill’s graduate programs are also growing. The Writing Popular Fiction program, MBA, art therapy, and its Orthodontics program for dentists are all popular.

Ms. Finger said the school’s career-oriented programs are bolstered by its strong liberal arts education.

“Employers tell us they want people who can think critically, write well and argue effectively,” she said, “and our faculty do a wonderful job there."

“We want to remain aggressive in preparing students for the world, and there’s a lot of pressure on kids, it’s still a pretty difficult marketplace to compete in,” she said.

She said 5 percent of the university’s students study abroad, and 90 percent are required to complete internships with companies or some other experience-based practical work, such as lab research.

“Employers tell us these experiences really broaden a student’s perspective and enhance their ability to be in a diverse environment,” she said.

She noted the trend toward more unpaid internships in the business world, and said the university may try to find some financial support for students because employers say internships make a difference.

She said Seton Hill strives to keep students well-grounded in the values of the Catholic faith at the same time that they focus on their education.

“We have a strong presence in the Sisters of Charity here, and our academic curriculum follows the Judeo-Christian tradition,” she said. “So students have a Christian ministry here and we have a service component as well. Students are required to do volunteer work - maybe at a non-profit such as Habitat for Humanity. But they are also asked to reflect on that service with the faculty and students, and reflect on how their service relates to the Catholic tradition and the work that Mother Elizabeth Seton did here.”

Ms. Finger knows that Seton Hill must remain affordable to continue to be successful.

The school’s tuition is about $30,000 for two semesters, and room and board adds another $10,000.

The average Seton Hill student receives $19,000 in financial aid, according to university figures.

“We need to keep the cost affordable and reach out to all socioeconomic classes,” she said.

“I am fortunate to step in at this time,” she said, noting many colleges are experiencing a decline in enrollment and are going through financial problems.

“This is a very strong institution, and I want to build on what JoAnne Boyle (the previous president) had done here for 27 years,” she said. "I want to build on the great trajectory that this school is on."

Ms. Finger will live in Ligonier, and is looking forward to taking her two grandchildren, who live in Spain, to nearby Idlewild Park.

President Finger was Senior Vice President for Advancement at DePaul University in Chicago, Ill., which bills itself as the largest Catholic University in the country with 24,000 students.

She led the school's first comprehensive capital campaign and co-chaired the Task Force on Innovation for developing and evaluating new academic programs.

Ms. Finger received a doctoral degree in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master‘‍s degree from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee and a bachelor’‍s degree from Marquette University.

Debra Duncan, freelance writer:

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