President’s Summer 2021 Update

Jun 23, 2021


I trust that this extremely long (but hopefully informative) update will find all of you - students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, friends, and investors in UD - in full recovery mode from an extraordinary year!

This year, we moved from our J-Term (January Term) to our first May Term. May Term, on-boarding new flight students, and our regular summer school schedule has kept our campus busy with activity. Additionally, UD for Kids, which will be in its 29th year, and various other campus events and camps have kept everyone on their toes. On top of all of that, our maintenance team is busy readying residence halls for a new group of students, repairing walkways, weeding flower beds, painting curbs, handrails, exterior doors, and watering - lots of watering - as we are in the middle of a terrible drought. 

Condition of Independent Higher Education
You have likely been reading about the precarious state of independent higher education in America, and you’re maybe even more focused on the enrollment decline of independent schools in the Midwest. 

It is true that many independent schools throughout the Midwest have declining enrollments. Fortunately, UD has managed to do a good job swimming against that current, but we are having our challenges. And, of course, COVID-19 has magnified those challenges for all of us. In any given year, for example, our admission counselors and coaches make thousands of visits to high school campuses. COVID-19 shut down those visits. In fact, during the 2020-2021 academic year, our team was not able to make one visit to a high school. We have had to adapt and adjust our strategies, but we are definitely looking forward to getting back to our face-to-face recruiting. So, why, with so many choices available to high school students should a student attend UD? I believe there are a number of factors that make UD a great choice:

First, we have a tremendous Mission that resonates with students and families, and we’ve worked very hard to keep the cost of our education affordable. Our caringly intrusive, radically accountable, and practically purposeful educational culture has been transformative for students - and for each of us as faculty and staff colleagues.

Second, we are about the intellectual, personal, and spiritual formation of students, and, again, our caringly intrusive approach to education is a difference maker. What does caringly intrusive mean? It means that we care enough about our students to appropriately intrude into their lives. If a student is absent from class, they are contacted. If a student seems to be struggling, they will be engaged in conversation. In other words, this is not a good place to be if one desires to be completely anonymous!

Third, we have a tremendous recruiting staff comprised of admission counselors, coaches, faculty, and staff members who work hard, are excellent at maintaining relationships, and care about the Mission and our students. Friendships are made here - lasting relationships - and that kind of experience really makes a difference in today’s world of isolation and divisiveness.

Fourth, our campus looks and feels like a university - a campus that people care about. Our landscaping crew maintains a beautiful environment. Our cleaning team works to ensure that the buildings always appear neat and welcoming. Our maintenance staff makes sure that everything within those beautiful buildings work. Our trustees and supporters have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new, state-of-the-art campus that nicely blends contemporary and historic buildings. Our faculty and staff really care about students and each other. 

And, finally (probably should be No. 1), God has richly blessed this Mission.

President’s Advisory Council for Diversity, Inclusion, and Hospitality
The President’s Advisory Council for Diversity, Inclusion, and Hospitality is UD’s answer to a diversity officer. As a faith-based community of teaching and learning, we believe that all of us - not just one of us - is responsible for taking ownership in facilitating a campus climate that welcomes all God’s children. Ably lead by Dean of Student Engagement, Nelson Edmonds, and Dean for Graduate and Adult Studies, Ricardo Cunningham, the council is comprised of 16 members of our campus community including students, faculty, and staff colleagues. Of the 16 council members, six are male and 10 are female. Ten out of the 16 identify as being from underrepresented populations.

Together, the council contributes to supporting a campus culture that emanates from the University’s Mission and its call for us to be “… a hospitable Christian environment which respects other faith traditions” and “a diverse and equitable community where Christian love is practiced.” Among other objectives, this council advises policies and procedures for faculty and staff hiring, student support, and faculty and staff development and training opportunities, as well as advising and leading in situations of crisis management.

In today’s higher education environment, many universities conclude that they have no moral authority to have an opinion or to shape a campus culture around the issues of the day including speech, tolerance, respect for difference, and decency. As a faith-based organization of teaching and learning, we believe that we have both the right and responsibility, as informed by our Christian Mission, to shape our organizational culture in ways that glorify God, respect other people and traditions, embrace diversity, and work towards equity and genuine understanding. As an educational institution, we are to engage thoughts, debate ideas, and author thoughtful publications, but we are also to be a place of welcome and humility where Christian love is practicedPractice is key in this articulation of the Mission.  It implies a longer view requiring grit, persistence, fortitude, and a higher calling. And it will never be easy. While some educational institutions will be intimidated by the challenges of this epoch, the council, as informed by our Mission, will help our organization to engage difficult subjects in meaningful and even transformative ways.

Chlapaty and Butler Fellows
The prestigious Joseph and Linda Chlapaty Summer Research Fellowship and John and Alice Butler Summer Research Fellowship are awarded to UD students on a competitive basis. Over the course of a summer, each fellow invests 400 hours in their research in addition to preparing for graduate school examinations and networking with potential graduate program. Fellows receive a stipend of $4,500 and another $500 for research-associated supplies and travel costs. Fellows often receive co-authorship credit on publications. The Chlapaty and Butler Fellows for 2021 are:

Chlapaty Fellows

Lauryn Behrend
Advisor: Lalith Jayawickrama
Major: Biology
Project: Quantitative Analysis of Lead Found in Baby Teeth

Carlee Benzing
Advisors: Amandeep Arora and Adam Kleinschmit   
Major: Biology
Project: Antimicrobial Compound Prospecting and Characterization in Dubuque County

Hanna Blumhoff
Advisor: Kelly Grussendorf     
Majors: Biology and Chemistry         
Project: Effects of Chemicals in Water on DENND1A, a Gene Linked to the Development of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Kayla Breunig
Advisor: Gerald Zuercher     
Majors: Biology and Chemistry         
Project: Effect of Habitat Type on Bird Diversity and Richness

Luke Bullock
Advisor: Mark Sinton             
Majors: Mathematics and Chemistry
Project: The Simulation of Tyrosinase’s Enzyme-Substrate Complex at High Temperatures

Allisen Hallahan
Advisor: Gerald Zuercher
Major: Environmental Science
Project: Invasive Plant Species Effects on Wildlife

Hanna Horsfield
Advisor: Adam Hoffman
Majors: Environmental Biology in Secondary Education, All Science in Secondary Education, and Biology
Project: Analyzing the Impacts of Microplastic on Terrestrial (Lumbriculus terrestris) and Aquatic (Lumbriculus variegatus) Worms

Brady McIntyre
Advisor: Kelly Grussendorf
Major: Biology
Project: Determining the Prevalence of Ticks and Tick-borne Pathogens in Eastern Iowa

Ahrend Raab
Advisors: Kelly Grussendorf and Adam Hoffman
Major: Biology
Project: Analyzing the Health Effects of Caenorhabditis elegans Exposed to Roundup Bound Microplastics

Tyler Ramey
Advisor: Dale Easley
Major: Environmental Science
Project: Estimates of the Historical Tree Canopy of Dubuque, Iowa

Jacob Whitbeck
Advisor: Mark Sinton
Major: Biology
Project: The Search for Podophyllotoxin in River Birch Trees

Butler Fellows

Grace Mayberry
Advisors: Eric Nie and Gerald Zuercher
Major: Environmental Science
Project: Land Management Intern at the University’s Wolter Woods and Prairies Environmental Stewardship and Retreat Center

Paige Peterson
Advisors: Eric Nie and Gerald Zuercher
Majors: Biology and Environmental Science
Project: Land Management Intern at the University’s Wolter Woods and Prairies Environmental Stewardship and Retreat Center

Max Snowden
Advisors: Eric Nie and Gerald Zuercher
Major: Environmental Science
Project: Land Management Intern at the University’s Wolter Woods and Prairies Environmental Stewardship and Retreat Center

Dillon Tierney
Advisors: Eric Nie and Gerald Zuercher
Major: Environmental Science
Project: Land Management Intern at the University’s Wolter Woods and Prairies Environmental Stewardship and Retreat Center

Top 10 Military Spouse Friendly Award
Most of you know that that UD has a long history of support for Army ROTC students and our veterans, which is why I’m so grateful that we were recently named a Top 10 Military Spouse Friendly ® School for our leading practices, outcomes, and programing for military spouses - especially through the UD LIFE program. 

Capital Projects
Yes - we are still building on campus (actually, more renovating than building)! Again this summer, and over the next two years, there is a lot of construction taking place.  

Van Vliet Hall Renovation
Van Vliet Hall, named after our founder Adrian Van Vliet, was built in 1926 with funds solicited throughout the Synod of the West, the German-speaking Synod, in what is now the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Originally, it was “The Seminary Building,” housing Urbach Library, Guy Memorial Chapel, offices, and classrooms. Ninety-five years later, the renovation will include new wiring and plumbing, new windows, asbestos abatement, restoration of the stained glass windows in Guy Chapel, and a full update of offices and restroom facilities.

Aitchison Hall
Aitchison Hall was dedicated in 1962 in memory of English professor Anna M. Aitchison. For most of the first half of the 20th century, Professor Aitchison taught English and American literature, as well as many international students, long before ESL (English as a Second Language) became standardized. During summer 2021 and summer 2022, Aitchison Hall will receive a new roof and a completely new brick and stone exterior to complement the interior renovation that took place around 2005. 

Fremont House
In 2017, Chuck and John Stoltz gave 1760 Fremont Avenue to UD to be considered for use as a President’s home. After four years of study, the Fremont House, one of only four homes left in Dubuque constructed by the Loetscher family, of Farley, Iowa, and Loetscher Manufacturing Company, will undergo significant updating and renovation including new plumbing, electrical, waterproofing, and windows. As a point of historical interest, Christian Loetscher (1850-1922) created the first endowed student scholarship at the University of Dubuque. The Fremont House will become the home for the President of the University of Dubuque and his or her family. 

Oyen Field
Oyen Field, a gift of Kevin (C’81) and Lynne (Miller) (C’78) Oyen in 2003, will receive new permanent bleachers and a building that will house concessions and restroom facilities. Today, Oyen Field is used for the men’s and women’s soccer programs as well as men’s lacrosse. 

Severance Hall
Severance Hall, dedicated in 1912, was made possible through funding by the family of Louis H. Severance, a prominent Presbyterian layperson from Cleveland, Ohio. Like Van Vliet Hall, Severance Hall will undergo a complete renovation beginning in summer 2022 that will include new plumbing, electrical wiring, windows, asbestos abatement, updated bathrooms, and drywall. Severance Hall had a minor renovation in 1988 and, with this complete overhaul, should be good-to-go until about 2131! 

As you might imagine, these projects, particularly those involving historical renovation, are expensive. I am sending out an early alert for those of you who may be interested in participating in some of these renovations. We need additional investments of $2 million to complete funding for these projects. Please watch for more details about these investment opportunities or, if you’re so inspired, contact Melissa Hemesath, vice president for advancement, at or me at if you would like to make an investment.

Intercollegiate Athletics
What an interesting year for Spartan athletics!  We began the year not knowing whether there would be a season for intercollegiate athletics. Thankfully, in contrast to many conferences in Division III, the American Rivers Conference elected to proceed with all sports, albeit with modified schedules and seasons. Though I certainly understand the fear of COVID-19, by and large policy makers ignored the downstream brain health impact of extended periods of isolation on our younger population. (I have written about this topic in in various media outlets and on my blog at if you have any interest in learning more.) To maintain balanced brain health, younger adults, up to the age of 30, require far more social interaction than the rest of us. In this regard, in addition to competition, our students were able to socialize - safely. Through regular protocols of social distancing and COVID-19 testing, on top of the health-related practices we had in place on campus, our student-athletes were able to practice and compete, even if their schedule was modified. To illustrate the overall dedication of our student-athletes, as just one example, the football team practiced 104 times for one game against Coe College. (We won, by the way!)

Even with modified seasons, Spartan athletics enjoyed a great deal of success. Here are some - but not all - of their accomplishments:

Outdoor Track and Field
  Kaitlyn Wilder, Women’s Shot Put -- All-American
  Olivia Costley, 400m Dash -- All-American
  Alison Beeman, 100m Dash -- All-American

Indoor Track and Field DIII Elite Indoor Championships
  2nd Place- Women’s Team
  4th Place- Men’s Team

Women’s Golf
  2020  American Rivers Conference Champions
  Daniela Miranda, Medalist
  Dustin Bierman and Jordan Koehler, Coaches of the Year

Men’s Basketball
  2021 American Rivers Conference Champions (14-0)
  Peter Ragen, Offensive MVP, 1st Team All-West Region
  Brock Simon, Defensive MVP
  Robbie Sieverding, Jordan Townsend, and John Payan, Coaches of the Year

Men’s Soccer
  2020 (Spring 2021) American Rivers Conference Champions
  Brandon White, Defensive Player of the Year
  Brad Johnson, Tom Corcoran, and Colby Gay, Coaches of the Year, DIII North Region Coaches of the Year, United Soccer Coaches-DIII National Coaches of the Year

What Can I Do to Help?
The most important thing that any of us can do is to pray for this Mission - its faculty, staff, trustees, and, importantly, the students whose lives will be transformed because of this distinctive educational experience. 

Secondly, every person who loves and cares about this Mission can invest in it financially. Over the years, people have asked me why I’m not embarrassed to ask for their financial support. My answer is straightforward: I’m not embarrassed because first and foremost I’m in the “joy” business. Through this Mission, people have the privilege of supporting the transformation of young lives into people of purpose, character, opportunity, and leadership. Over and over again, I have seen people experience profound joy through the simple act of giving to the University’s Mission. It is counterintuitive, I know, but investing in causes that matter not only improves the organization - making those investments improves us. Giving helps to make us better people.

As you can see, there are many opportunities to invest in the University and its Mission. Our students need scholarship support, and each of you can help meet that need by investing in an endowed scholarship ($25,000) or through the Annual Student Scholarship Fund. It’s also true that our trustees are considering a focused fundraising campaign for the University’s endowment. Our endowment has grown from $13 million to over $225 million but it needs to grow further and faster to support our students - our Mission. Today, over 60% of our student body are Pell Grant eligible, which means that they come from backgrounds of poverty or lower economic strata. Furthermore, there is a growing economic divide between young people who are able to go to college and those who wish to go to college but are economically unable to do so. 

Heck, I realize that everyone has important claims on their time and their financial resources. However, my family and I believe in the transformative power of our Mission, which is why UD continues to be our single most important philanthropic endeavor. A transforming Mission transforms lives which transforms a culture.

What Does UDs Future Look Like?
I am absolutely convinced that our best years are ahead of us. 

Though we will have setbacks, I am certain that we will continue to buck the national trends so long as we stay faithful to our Mission. Staying true to that Mission means doing things a little differently. We will continue to be a University that is grounded in the Christian faith and which features professional programs with a liberal arts core. We will expand our offerings in the arts and other classical disciplines, even while we mature new areas like our physician assistant program, LIFE programs in Dubuque and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Tempe, Arizona; and Meridian, Idaho; or in new masters-related programs in diversity and inclusion or wealth management. Our theological seminary will continue to adapt to the changing landscape of theological education and will branch out to further assist in the formation of lay leaders and future clergy. Our physician assistant program will continue to grow and expand its reach and will soon move beyond its enrollment cap of 25 students per entering class. Importantly, we will continue to form students from all walks of life - students that are at the top of their high school graduating class to students who may need additional focused work, but who have a desire and drive to succeed. Our educational model, anchored by our Student Success Commitment, has demonstrated that there is a “special sauce” in the way that we deliver education; a transformative process that integrates academics, stewardship, community and character, and vocation into all that we do - and attempt to do.

Closing Thoughts
Finally, I believe that, even while we celebrate our success and accomplishments, we must keep an organizational attitude of humility. Too many higher education institutions get caught up in believing their own publicity. It’s okay to have organizational confidence and purpose, but it’s not appropriate for this organization to lose sight of the fact that whatever success we have experienced is first due to the Grace of God and, second, to the hard work, commitment, dedication, and support of many people, some of whom are very visible and many of whom serve and support this place quietly with great pride and purpose.

The next 18 months, our post-COVID-19 epoch, are going to be very challenging for us. We will need to rebuild relationships and trust with teachers, counselors, and coaches in high schools across the country; relationships that were put on hold the past one and a half years but took us 20 years to cultivate and nurture. We will need to raise a significant amount of endowment investments to continue to keep the cost of our education affordable for regular families, even as inflation begins to eat away at the value of every dollar. Students will need enormous support in the classroom and out of the classroom due to lost learning time and brain health trauma inflicted by COVID-19. In fact, one of my remaining dreams for UD, through a robust endowment, is to identify the resources to attach an academic success and life coach to EVERY student and professional tutors for every discipline. Though expensive, that structure - alone - will improve intellectual and formational learning, as well as greatly improve our persistence and graduation rates.

Dana and I have the great fortune of serving with this amazing cadre of people, daily. We laugh with them, often, because this is a pretty fun place to be. Sometimes we cry with them as we share one another’s challenges and pain. We scream and shout and celebrate with them as we cheer our students on when they experience victory, and we help pick them up when they’re discouraged by disappointment, a bad grade, or defeat. And it was with a spirit of great pride and thanksgiving that we applauded our 400+ newest graduates as they made their way in procession through the faculty affirmation line after having received their newly minted degrees in Dubuque and Tempe.

Since the beginning of COVID-19, we have had 26 colleagues retire, some of whom will no longer be part of that affirmation line. I will miss each of them, and I know that you will join with me in thanking them for their investment in this Mission known as the University of Dubuque:

Stephen Funk, Custodian Supervisor (13 years)
Dale Thein, Shuttle Driver (32 years)
Verna Urban, Admission Support (16 years)
David Hansen, Maintenance (12 years)
Beth Fleming, Seminary Admission Coordinator (30 years)
Pam Crawford, Director of Learning Services (4 years)
Peter Smith, VP for Enrollment Management, Marketing, and Relations (22 years)
Sandra Jewett, Asst. Director, Employer Relations (24 years)
Norman Leliefeld, Custodian (13 years)
Nancy Rosemeyer, Custodian (5 years)
Alice Stillmunkes, Security (11 years)
Barbara Smeltzer, Campus Mom (22 years)
Eric Siese, Maintenance (16 years)
Luann LeConte, Seminary Faculty Secretary (22 years)
Bonnie Sue Lewis, Professor of Mission (24 years)
Dennis Horch, Custodian (7 years)
William Stevens, Security (11 years)
Beverly Smith, Academic Success Center (12 years)
Michael Fessler, Maintenance (6 years)
Catherine Schleicher, Custodian (2 years)
Randall Meyer, Custodian (16 years)
Phyllis Garfield, Director of International Studies (21 years)
Mark Pasker, Advancement Accountant (4 years)
Henry Grubb, Professor of Psychology (12 years)
Gail Hayes, Dean for Academic Affairs, Graduate and Adult Studies (20 years)
Peg Kerr, Head of the Department of Nursing and Professor of Nursing (12 years)

The University of Dubuque is changing lives in profound ways - that part of our tradition continues. This is also a university that has changed dramatically over the years. You can see those changes in the buildings, the number of students on campus, and the demographic composition of our campus population. But the core essence of who we are is still reflected in our motto - Mancherlei gaben und ein geist - (Various gifts but one Spirit). We have all been blessed with a variety of gifts and abilities, and our vocation is to serve God by using those gifts to the best of our ability as students are transformed and prepared to serve as teachers, ministers, business leaders, doctors, researchers, attorneys, police officers, pilots, coaches, nurses, accountants, physician assistants, sociologists, and psychologists. Truly, this is a special place, and our important work will continue well into the future.

With appreciation for your support and investments -

Rev. Jeffrey F. Bullock, PhD
President of the University