A Vision on the Move

My dear friends and colleagues,

Southwestern University has been an educational leader in the state of Texas and our nation for more than 177 years. Our founders championed the vital role of formal education and its important contributions to the well-being of humanity. Their early commitment to cultivating academic excellence, lifelong learning, and a passion for intellectual and personal growth laid the foundation for Southwestern’s current reputation as a leader in higher education.

Perhaps at no other time in our storied history will that leadership be more tested than in the decades to come. Higher education faces some serious challenges, not the least of which is remaining relevant to the intellectual and creative needs of students who will graduate into a world in which over 65% will eventually hold careers in positions that have yet to be created.

Driven by the reality of our times, and pushed ever forward by 177 years of educational leadership, we introduced our Strategic Vision and Direction in the Spring of 2016. It outlines the goals of our institution for the next five to ten years. It challenges the entire SU community to find themselves within this vision and calls upon their own strengths and creativity to develop new and innovative approaches to how we teach, mentor, and prepare our students for the complex and multifaceted world that awaits them.

The response to this challenge has been tremendous. Our faculty came together to develop and implement a new, breakthrough curriculum. Not only are students exposed to every area of human thought offered at Southwestern, they now have the opportunity to connect those thoughts in a much more meaningful way through a new articulation of Paideia, one in which Paideia is part of every single class. This curriculum also allows for greater student agency, where students take an active role in creating their individualized educational experience.

The following pages highlight some of this progress as well as other examples of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni working together to achieve our shared vision. Every single person in the SU community — including students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents, donors, and friends of the University — plays a role in bringing our vision to life. We must recognize that we are all now the co-authors of not only the next ambitious chapter in our shared history, but also of the next iteration of meaningful education for future generations.

With pride, optimism, and gratitude,

Edward Burger, President and Professor — Southwestern University

From Vision to Reality


IT WAS THE CULMINATION of planning and input from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees that outlined Southwestern’s vision, direction, and goals for the next five to ten years. But more importantly, it set in motion the more challenging task of turning these ambitious goals into reality.

The plan calls upon the Southwestern community to evolve and refine not only the Southwestern Experience, but higher education itself. All parties are encouraged to find themselves within this plan and to develop meaningful changes to the way we approach the rich experiences essential to intellectual, personal, and professional success in the 21st century.

President Burger recently reflected on the implementation of the vision, “It’s about evolving the culture of our University and finding ways to see a future Southwestern that’s different and even better than we already are today.”

Innovation Times Three

WITH THE NEW Strategic Vision as a foundation, President Burger and Dr. Alisa Gaunder, Dean of the Faculty, challenged the Southwestern faculty to create an advanced curriculum that better prepares students for the realities of the 21st century.

In January of 2016, the faculty came together to form a Curriculum Committee which conducted and analyzed marketplace research and gathered input from students, faculty, and staff. They developed three viable options for consideration, which they presented to the faculty in the summer of 2016. A final curriculum was approved, and plans turned toward making it a reality in time for the Fall 2017 semester.

“It was truly a faculty-led initiative, based on input from students and colleagues as well as industry trends,” said Gaunder. “Current students who were already enrolled with the previous curriculum had the choice to either switch to the new structure or continue on the path of the previous one.” The new structure outlines updated graduation requirements and incorporates an increased emphasis on student agency in which students can more intentionally chart their own academic course.


  1. The first part of the curriculum consists of taking at least one course in each of the four main liberal arts disciplines: Humanities, Fine Arts, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences (including Mathematics and Computer Science). Students then "double up" and take at least one more in two of those areas.
  2. The next area focuses on in-depth courses related to the student's "intellectual home" or major. But now they are approaching that deep and meaningful knowledge from a much broader perspective enhanced by other disciplines.
  3. The final area of the new curriculum allows students the freedom to explore and “choose their own adventure”. This student agency gives them the opportunity to take additional classes in areas of interest or change their minds and switch majors while still graduating in four years. Some may decide to double major while others pursue minors. Most students participate in an internship, research project, study abroad semester, or other high-impact experiences during their time at Southwestern.
"I'm so proud of the new curriculum and how it enhances student agency. This is our first semester and the response has been tremendous. Students get to be the creators of their own education, rather than just following a rubric that someone else has crafted for them."


Innovation Through Connective Insights

THE UPDATED CURRICULUM continues to incorporate Southwestern’s Paideia philosophy, in which faculty members encourage students to make connections not only within their classes, but also across disciplines. This concept is woven throughout the campus and incorporated in all areas.

“The new articulation of Paideia, which incorporates Paideia in every class, asks students to take the thinking process from that particular class and apply it to something other than the subject itself — whether it’s theatre or the athletic field or science,” said Burger. “Paideia is something that you will not find at any other institution. There’s no other school in the nation, or in the world, that has a curriculum that’s as thoughtful and intentional about making connections as ours is now. And that’s truly exciting.”

of Southwestern students are employed, volunteering with a non-profit, or are accepted to grad school within ten months of graduation.

Southwestern’s Strategic Vision identifies the following four key goals for the University over the next ten years:

  • Enroll and retain students who have significant potential for academic excellence.
  • Foster the highest standards of scholarship, academic quality, and differentiated educational and co-curricular experiences focused on thinking, creating, and connecting.
  • Cultivate the culture and practices among faculty and staff necessary to sustain institutional excellence and a community focused on student success.
  • Continue to develop and implement a sustainable financial model that reflects the new realities for higher education generally and for liberal arts institutions specifically.


Marketplace Demands Drive Four New Interdisciplinary Minors

THIS FALL, Southwestern added four new minors to its interdisciplinary curriculum. These new minors were chosen based on a number of factors including student interest, faculty input, shifting marketplace demands, current resources, and alignment with SU’s overall academic vision.

Animal Studies

Southwestern’s new Animal Studies minor incorporates classic studies of animal behavior as well as emerging research in critical animal studies. Students are exposed to the study of animals from a biological, psychological, and animal studies perspective enriched by courses from the fine arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Data Science

Data Science is an emerging field, and graduates with the skills to analyze and interpret large sets of data are in high demand. Students in Southwestern’s program learn the tools, application, and implications of data science. The minor includes fundamental introductory courses in math/computer sciences, applied courses in social science and natural science categories, as well as humanities courses to address the implications of using data to make decisions that affect individual lives.

Health Studies

The Health Studies minor covers areas of public health and community health, and prepares students for postgraduate studies in the health-related fields. Students will learn how to communicate concepts and ideas related to health across a range of disciplines, understand and debate health concepts from multiple perspectives, and gain the skills to understand issues related to health topics such as disease, health-related news, policy making, and more.

International Studies

International Studies at Southwestern is an interdisciplinary program incorporating global, area, and foreign language studies. The introduction of the minor, in addition to the current International Studies major, will benefit students interested in global studies including Business and Communication majors. Participating students will gain an understanding of other cultures and global systems through a broad perspective and develop proficiency in a foreign language.

The addition of these four areas of studies brings the total number of minors offered at Southwestern to 39, along with 36 majors and a variety of pre-professional pathways with specialized advising, including medicine, law, dentistry, and ministry.

Improving Education Outside the Classroom

WHEN STUDENTS LEARN based on their own discoveries, that learning tends to be deeper and more transformational. Giving students the chance to do authentic work, driven by real and meaningful questions, can capture their imagination and passion in ways that textbook-based learning rarely can.

At Southwestern we are enhancing the development of new and important intellectual abilities and practices through imaginative out-of-classroom experiences. This includes the thoughtful and intentional pursuit of activities, organizations, and events that help to build a student’s own personal skill-set.

“Southwestern gave me the tools to think outside of the box, and view ideas and concepts from multiple points of view. It fosters an entrepreneurial ethos that encourages students and graduates to make a positive impact with their business endeavors.”


The Art of Professional Development

The average number of high-impact experiences for an SU student.

ON THE HORIZON is yet another innovative initiative unique to Southwestern. In response to the challenges laid out in the new strategic vision, the Office of Student Life is working on a concept called MOSAIC that will mark another advancement in the higher education experience by creating a more focused intent of learning opportunities that take place outside the classroom.

MOSAIC identifies and defines five core areas of development that are critical for long-term success. It intentionally creates opportunities for students to:

  • Make Meaning of the Academic Experience
  • Develop 21st Century Skills
  • Shape Identity
  • Construct a Well-Managed Life
  • Contribute as a Global Citizen

A mosaic is beautiful and unique, shaped and molded over time from a variety of materials, colors, and textures. No two mosaics are exactly alike, but all are works of art.

This concept of unique personal development is a lens through which we view each member of our community. Our students will develop in five key areas and blend their different talents, skills, and interests into something beautiful through interactions, programs, and opportunities designed to support intentional growth. The MOSAIC concept will become part of the entire SU community.

"Students will be thinking about their futures not just within the classroom, but throughout residence life and throughout the entire campus. MOSAIC will be another distinctive feature that's going to set Southwestern apart."


Embrace the Future

OUR STRATEGIC VISION serves as a springboard for ideas and innovations that create life-long learners through intentional connections, innovative academic pursuits, and a vibrant and involved residential community. Our world is constantly changing, and so too is Southwestern University.

We wish to share our journey in the hope that other institutions will learn from both our trailblazing successes as well as our inevitable missteps along the way, as both provide valuable insights.

Please join us as we continue to Think, Create, and Connect our way to a more modern and meaningful definition of higher education for the future.

Southwestern offers 36 majors and seven pre-professional pathways, resulting in Bachelor’s Degrees of Arts, Science, Science in Education, Music or Fine Arts.
Southwestern has been included in every edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges since 1996.
Kiplinger includes Southwestern in its 2016 list of the 100 top values in liberal arts colleges.
Forbes names Southwestern as the #1 undergraduate liberal arts college in Texas in its 2016 Grateful Grad Colleges. Southwestern is also recognized as one of Forbes’ top 50 colleges in the South.
Washington Monthly ranks Southwestern among the top 100 national liberal arts colleges, based on contributions to the public good.
The foundation of the Southwestern curriculum, Paideia®, intentionally connects ideas and themes across multiple disciplines.

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