Strategic Plan 2027 reinstates two varsity sports, introduces School of Health Sciences


Nina Martinez / Hilltop Views

Freshman Michelle Rodriguez, a forensic science major, studies in the John Brooks Williams – South building, home to the School of Natural Sciences. The new School of Health Sciences will be one of three science schools at the liberal arts university.

This 2022-23 academic year marks the start of “Strategic Plan 2027: Destination University for a More Just World” – St. Edward’s University’s five-year plan. The development of SP27 began July 1, 2021, when Montserrat “Monste” Fuentes assumed the role of university president. The plan was one of the expectations set by the Board of Trustees for President Fuentes. Fuentes worked alongside 23 faculty, staff and student leaders to create the plan. The St. Edward’s community was encouraged to participate in community feedback sessions and surveys in the previous academic year. Throughout the spring semester, faculty, staff and students were invited to an open forum for updates, feedback and questions. 

“Destination University for a More Just World” includes five goals: Academic Excellence and Distinction; Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice; Austin Impact; Infrastructure and Resources; and a Vibrant and Inclusive Campus. These goals also include a complete review of any ties the university may have to systemic racism, the addition of a sixth school and restoring previously cut varsity sports.


Addressing the University’s Past

The community anticipated one particular aspect of SP27: the renaming of Doyle Hall. In his final year at St. Edward’s, former President George Martin asked for investigation into the university’s history around systemic racism, beginning with the Doyle family. An email on May 1, 2021 from Board of Trustees Chair Steve Shadowen said in 2022 the board would be asked to rename Doyle Hall. The former School of Behavioral and Social Sciences building was named after Mary Doyle, who bequeathed 400 acres in 1872 for an academic institution. 

On Aug. 12, the university held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly named Equity Hall, complete with updated signage. The building’s formal dedication will be hosted on Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 28-30. The renaming is one initiative of SP27 with the goal of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice. The email from Fuentes announcing the name selection did not acknowledge the Doyles’ past. 

In response to this, Fuentes shared with Hilltop Views the current study and historical review of the university’s links to slavery and racism. The study is led by the President’s Advisory Council for a Respectful and Inclusive Community (PACRIC). The shared-governance group includes student representatives and faculty and staff administration. The committee is led by Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion Erica Zamora; Associate Vice President for Faculty Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Monique Jiménez-Herrera; and Associate Vice President for HR, Diversity and Inclusion Melissa Esqueda. The historical review does, according to Fuentes, address Mary Doyle and the family’s ties to systemic racism. 

“We saw how we potentially were involved in the context of racism and injustice in the past,” Fuentes said, “but it’s a little more comprehensive than that. By no means am I saying that there is evidence that we have more, but we want to make sure that we just focus in a little bit more broader sense (and) evaluate our history to see if that is something we need to address with regard to our engagement in the past, with slavery and racism.”

Fuentes added that the plan is to share the review with the community. 


A New Space for Nurses

One aspect of SP27 is the formation of the School of Health Sciences. The first step in building this school: creating nursing programs. The liberal arts university currently offers multiple programs focused on addressing health and wellness. The School of Behavioral and Social Sciences offers undergraduate programs in psychology, social work, behavioral neuroscience and graduate programs like Master of Arts in Counseling and the Applied Behavioral Analysis Program. As for the School of Natural Sciences, students can currently work toward a bachelor’s in biology on either a pre-med, pre-nursing or allied health track, or a bachelor’s in kinesiology. 

Specifically focused on addressing health disparities, we are interested in increasing the diversity in the nursing workforce.

— Marianne Ward-Peradoza

“Specifically focused on addressing health disparities, we are interested in increasing the diversity in the nursing workforce through becoming a school that prepares nurses, and having a program that is very aligned with our mission around issues of justice and equity,” co-chair of the SP27 Leadership Team and Provost Marianne Ward-Peradoza said. “Last year, we approved a new certificate program that is called ‘Spanish for the Helping Professions.’”

The addition of the School of Health Sciences would bring multiple nursing programs to the hilltop. According to Ward-Peradoza, the team hopes to implement the following programs: an RN to BSN, for students who are practicing nurses who want to go from the RN certification to the bachelor’s degree; a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a traditional BSN, for traditional four-year undergraduate students; and an accelerated Bachelor of Science of nursing, for students who have a bachelor’s in another area and want to move into nursing. 

The plan also includes a partnership with Ascension for the clinical training portion of the programs. According to Fuetnes, the first nursing cohort will be formed by the next academic year.


Returning Varsity Sports

Student athletes were some of many affected by the financial hardships that St. Edward’s faced when COVID-19 struck. In April 2020, the university cut six varsity sports. As part of the goal to be a Vibrant and Inclusive Campus, SP27 aims to bring back two of the six affected sports: cheer and men’s soccer. Cheer transitioned to a club sport during the pandemic but has now returned to the varsity level and has hired a coach. Men’s soccer, which once had the most international players, will also return to varsity-level sport.

Other initiatives include a student-led environmental justice team committed to sustainability and addressing climate change. And in an effort to meet the demand in the local tech industry, the plan seeks to prepare students for working in some of the 8,300 high-tech companies in Austin, according to Fuentes. 

St. Edward’s students are involved in the process to bring the plan to fruition, most notably through work with the Student Government Association. Former SGA President and alumna Jae De Leon ‘22 served on the Strategic Plan Leadership Team, and her work now rolls over to current SGA President Ella Ochoa.  

Chief Data Officer Alicia Betsinger serves as the vice president of Institutional Effectiveness & Planning at the university. Betisnger works on the data side and the phased approach to the five-year plan. This allows the university and the team to decide if they’re on track, if there are any possible risks or if they need to pivot. For students, Betsinger hopes they feel welcomed to be a part of the process. 

“I encourage students to speak up in their goal-coordinating teams,” Betsinger said. “If they don’t feel comfortable doing that, definitely reach out to (Ochoa) and have a conversation. Any student should be willing and feel comfortable reaching out to ask, and that’s part of why the shared governance reps are there for questions, concerns, for anyone to be able to bring something (to us) and not feel as if it’s a closed group.”

To read the published Strategic Plan 2027, click here.


Hilltop Views will continue to cover news and updates regarding Strategic Plan 2027.