It's appropriate that the first issue of OWU Magazine after I've joined Ohio Wesleyan University features a major story on some of our amazing alumni living and working in New York City.
Just days before my family and I moved to Delaware and the OWU campus, we took a summer vacation to explore some of the rich history of early America. We traveled to Washington, D.C., and toured the White House. We traveled to Boston and walked the Freedom Trail—and stopped in Cheers, where literally no one knew our names. And we traveled to New York City.
My wife, Melissa, and I loved being back in the city, and our children, Jackson, 10, and Sylvia, 7, could not get enough of Nintendo New York at Rockefeller Plaza and the Barbie Shop at FAO Schwartz, respectively. We were all thrilled by the energy of the city and awed by its history. Standing at the site of the World Trade Center prompted a thoughtful discussion about ideas like freedom, sacrifice, equality, and responsibility—foundational ideas that harken back to the American Revolution.
Then, just a few weeks after we moved to Delaware, I took my first trip as Ohio Wesleyan president—and that trip was to New York City.
The trip was part of my What Matters listening tour. It seems every new president begins their tenure with a listening tour, but I want to do something a little deeper. What Matters is my attempt to immerse myself in the OWU campus and culture, to fully experience life as a Bishop. I've worked alongside staff and sat in the classroom with faculty, worked with students in the research lab, practiced with them on the athletic field, dined with them, met with Delaware leaders in the community, and visited alumni where they live and work.
It's essentially my own version of the OWU Connection—the same type of immersive, experiential learning that our students enjoy.
During the New York trip, one of the remarkable alumni I met was Shirley Paden-Bernstein '73, who you can also read about in this issue. When she came to Ohio Wesleyan, Shirley was a first-generation college student from a family of eight living in the inner city of Philadelphia. Today, she owns Shirley Paden Custom Knits and designs custom hand-knit clothing. She also is an internationally recognized teacher, author, mentor, and philanthropist.
Ohio Wesleyan changed her life and the trajectory of her family. In recognition of that transformation, and as a way to honor her mother, who she says did not have the opportunity to attend college, Shirley made a fiveyear pledge of $1 million to OWU to support initiatives like first-generation college student scholarships and the OWU Bridge Program, which gives new students skills and connections that will help them thrive at OWU.
Shirley recognizes that students may not arrive at OWU from equal starting points. Her gift enables us to provide hardworking and resilient students with the resources they need to succeed in college and their chosen life paths.
Thanks to such investments in our students from Shirley and other generous alumni, we are strengthening our ability to help students achieve their goals.
And these programs are working.
This fall, the percentage of our first-year students who completed a successful year and returned as sophomores increased to 84.3%, a full 2.5 percentage points higher than last year, and OWU's highest retention rate in 14 years. Digging a little deeper, our retention rate for first-generation students rose 9.8 percentage points, and retention rose 7.1 percentage points for Pell-eligible students. That is proof of the success of our extensive efforts and initiatives with at-risk groups.
Those numbers represent lives being transformed. Families being transformed.
And that is what matters.
During my What Matters activities, I am consistently learning that the Ohio Wesleyan community loves this university for the way it helps students find their why and find their way. Because of their experience with faculty mentors and coaches, through internships and travel, and with friends in this residential community, students who come to OWU are changed forever. They will live richer, more purposeful, and more rewarding lives because of their experience at OWU and their lifelong relationship with the greater OWU community across the country and around the world.
I am thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to help carry on and expand this great tradition.
President, Ohio Wesleyan University