Joliet, Ill. – The University of St. Francis (USF) in Joliet was founded in 1920 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate and has, for close to 100 years, offered students an educational experience that is rooted in the Franciscan values of respect, integrity, compassion and service. Now, thanks to a generous gift from Patricia ’67 and Robert Wheeler, USF’s College of Business and Health Administration (COBHA) is preparing to follow in the Franciscan tradition and offer a premiere, spiritually-focused curriculum centered on Catholic Franciscan values that will be integrated into academics, service to others, and faith based values. In short, COBHA’s goal is not to simply prepare students for a successful career, but also to prepare them for a purposeful life through three key principles – academics, service and faith.
“Thanks to Bob and Pat Wheeler, my college is thrilled to move in a direction that promotes the Franciscan values for business and healthcare majors at the undergraduate and graduate level,” said Orlando Griego, Ph.D., Dean of USF’s College of Business and Health Administration.
“Our Foundation enthusiastically supports the innovative curriculum design that Dr. Griego plans,” said Pat Wheeler, a Trustee for both the Wheeler Family Foundation and the USF. “We believe that greater integration of Catholic, Franciscan values into the core curricula of COBHA is needed to prepare students to meet the challenges of today’s businesses and professions.”
Wheeler further added, “It is our belief that initiatives of this character are paramount to the future of Catholic higher education and its ability to foster the next generation of faith based leaders in our communities.”
It is a given that academics are at the core of any college curriculum. It is also essential that students are taught a curriculum that prepares them for life and work. Currently, COBHA offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, healthcare, and professional studies. The school is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), which puts it in the top tier of business programs in the world. However, Griego believes that a “Franciscan focus” will offer an educational experience unlike others currently available.
“Though academics are the basis of any university program, infusing them with Catholic, Franciscan ethical values will prepare students for the future. It will also serve to make COBHA distinct from other area programs,” he said.
In addition to adding new academic components such as “A Day with St. Francis,” an off-campus retreat in a natural setting that focuses on providing time for personal reflection, conversation and deep learning of Franciscan values, the college’s current core courses will also be intentionally infused with core Franciscan values.
“One way we plan to incorporate Franciscan values into our courses can be seen in our Business, Society, and the Environment course, which deals with the ethics and values of companies in today’s society that goes hand-in-hand with Franciscan values. This course will be revised to reflect more of the Franciscan views on sustainability and environmental concerns. Additionally, the focus includes ethical leadership with the environment, people, and community. Part of being Franciscan is getting the message about sustainability and its effect on society and the environment,” Griego said.
COBHA faculty and students already serve. Faculty regularly lead their students in a variety of service-related events and student clubs are active in the community. “The goal of being a Franciscan college is to be intentional towards service in both academic and non-academic areas,” Griego said. “Community-based service activities paired with structured preparation and student reflection is valuable learning. What is unique about service learning is the direct application of theoretical ideas, which can be integrated into faith and academic perspectives. Real-world application of classroom knowledge in a community setting allows students to synthesize and reflect on course material in more meaningful ways.”
COBHA places a high priority on developing and strengthening one’s faith based values, in addition to developing and strengthening one’s mind academically. In line with these priorities, COBHA plans to use funds from the gift to address this area with an even more concerted, direct effort through two main actions – the creation of a Servant Leader Program and the incorporation of a variety of visual reminders of the college and university’s faith based roots in the college’s hallways, classrooms and offices.
“Students struggle on a daily basis with academics and life. Many students are searching for meaning beyond a degree or paycheck. COBHA can be more than a degree-granting institution. It can point to a direction for spiritual growth,” Griego explained.
Servant Leaders will serve in the role of mentor, event organizer, faith development, and other related Catholic and Christian perspectives that would enhance the faith based direction of the college. “The University of St. Francis is a faith based institution with the Franciscan and Catholic traditions. This faith component is central to a COBHA. This newly transformed College will appeal to and strengthen those students who wish a more dedicated focus on their spiritual life and a closer relationship to God,” Griego said.
The Servant Leaders will be tasked with spreading a faith based message to fellow students through activities, referring students to University Ministry, campaigns, teachings, hosting lectures, faith based events, and other spiritual or reflective practices. “This will be a very active and vibrant group,” Griego added.
While the Servant Leaders will be a student-led initiative, one or more faculty would serve as advisors called Faculty Shepherds. As for visual reminders of the college and university’s faith based roots, a variety of concepts are being developed. Bible verses and quotes will be placed on office, classroom and hallway walls and digital wall displays to promote faith events, share stories and focus on Franciscan principles. Unused office space will be re-purposed into personal reflection areas.
With detailed plans already in place, the COBHA faculty and staff are prepared to implement this initiative this fall. For Griego, he is motivated by the potential the new plans carry with them. “The potential is immense. It will impact lives for decades to come. It will serve as a role model for other Catholic universities. It will serve as a center for spiritual awakening and development. It will serve as distinctive from other business colleges,” Griego said.
“Ultimately, the goal is to follow the path of Christ who said in Matthew 5:16, ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,’” he concluded.
The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves over 4,000 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 50,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu.
University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.
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