Inaugural Address

Jacquelyn S. Fetrow, Ph.D.
Inaugural Address
October 27, 2017

Michelle Obama once said, “We learn about gratitude and humility—that so many people had a hand in our success…” She is right.

I have been lucky in my life to have many people who have cared so much and who have put time and effort into my success. George Rose was one of those amazing people. George was my thesis adviser when I was a graduate student at Penn State College of Medicine. He helped to launch me into a field of research—computational understanding of protein structure and function—that has remained a passion of mine to this day. When I considered various career transitions, George was there for advice and brainstorming. I thank you, George, for all that you have done for me.

There are so many other folks who have had a hand in my success—too many to name here, though I’m excited to say that some of those folks are here today to celebrate with us. One of my students at Albany, Jeannine, who became my company’s first employee, traveled from San Diego. The last doctoral student to work with me, Janelle, traveled from Florida, and one of my last undergraduate students, Julia, who has become almost the daughter Brian and I never had. I also want to thank the close to 75 family and friends who have traveled from near and far to celebrate Albright College with me and with us today.

And I want to express my deep appreciation of my mom, Millie Folk Fetrow, also an Albright College graduate, class of 1958, and my dad, David Fetrow. These are two amazing people who helped me become who I am. Mom and Dad are not with us today, but I’m sure they are celebrating with us. Also, to my sister, Steph, my brother Brad, and their spouses, Mike and Bernie—we have an amazing family.

Steph and Brad and I are now “three presidents.” Brad, the youngest and the first to be a president, is president of Fetrow Electric, the company he founded. Steph, the middle child and the second to be a president, is president of Evalytica, the company she founded. And me—the oldest and the slowest—I am the last one to be named “president.” We always have celebrated each other’s successes and I’m grateful they are here today.

Finally, my wonderful life partner—I’m truly the luckiest person to have shared the last 28 years of my life with Brian Kell.

Indeed, so many people have had a hand in my success. I am lucky in so many ways.

A Celebration

We come together today to celebrate Albright College and the city that we call home—the amazing city of Reading, Pa. The prelude, played by the Albright College Symphonic Band, was the “Penn Wheelmen March,” written in 1895 by M.A. Althouse and dedicated to the Penn Wheelman of Reading, Pa.

For the processional, the Albright College Symphonic Band was joined by our wonderful musician friends from Reading High School.

“The Star Spangled Banner,” “Song For Albright,” and the upcoming performance of the “Alma Mater,” are all performed by the Albright Angels and Mane Men, two of Albright College’s talented, student-led singing groups.

Finally, the recessional features music performed by Reading Samba School, led by Albright’s own A.J. Merlino. At the college-wide party after this ceremony, Remember Jones, a phenomenal band from Asbury Park, N.J., that features A.J. on percussion, will perform in the amphitheater outside the Center for the Arts.

Indeed, we have a lot to celebrate about Albright College and Reading, Pa.!

Beginnings

Upon my appointment to Albright College, a person very dear to me said, “All of life’s best journeys should bring you back to where you started.” He was right. My life’s journey returns me to where I began—Albright College.

I left this very building—Science Hall—four decades ago to begin a new stage of life and a career.  I had hopes, but could not have expected this life journey, a journey filled with joy, opportunity, serendipity and risk. Albright College is a place where I learned how to take advantage of life’s opportunities and to evaluate its risks.

I have now chosen to return. I can imagine a number of you are asking yourselves, “Why?” Why this particular place? Why this particular time? Today I want to share my story with you so you can understand why.

It’s because of my passion for higher education, my belief in a boundary-crossing, interdisciplinary education, founded in the liberal arts, and the benefits that an Albright education offers. It’s my underlying commitment to the importance of addressing the social and racial inequities in higher education and in our society.

It is my firm belief that Albright is and can be at the forefront of higher education at this moment in time, if we re-learn to tell our own story. This has led me to this moment with you.

This is my story about why I returned to Albright College and why I am proud of my alma mater today.

Who We Are

Albright community, take a moment to reflect with me…

To those of you who are current students—picture in your mind your favorite memory of this place so far.

To those of you who are faculty or staff—consider what is most memorable about your work at Albright College.

To those of you who are alumni or alumnae—what do you remember most? What is your most vivid memory of Albright College?

My memories of this place in the 1980s are striking and many:

Professor Annadora Shirk making room in her Interim class on technical writing, so that I could stay on campus for my first year Interim session. She said, “Interim is when friendships are made and lasting bonds are formed.” She was right.

Professor Morgan Heller, who gave me the most difficult unknown for the third unknown in organic chemistry. For those of you who are not chemists, the word “unknown” has a specific meaning. It is where the professor gives you a chemical and you have to figure out what the chemical is. The first two unknowns were easy for me, so being who I am, I challenged him to give me the most difficult one—challenging it was. I struggled with it for some time. I still remember vividly that day in lab. Dr. Heller was sitting in his chair near my lab bench and he said, “Jacque, step back and think. Consider what assumption you are making that may not be valid.” He was right. I quickly solved the unknown based on that advice. This skill—stepping back to recognize unrecognized assumptions—served me well throughout my life.

Professor Gary Adlestein, whose interdisciplinary course, “The Rebels of the ’60s and ’70s,” was one I did not want to take. I mean, seriously, I was a science major—a biochemistry major. Why would I want to take a course that was mostly about film, and an exploration of rebels of the ’60s and ’70s in film and art? I firmly decided that it wasn’t my cup of tea.  Indeed, I put off that IDS requirement until my senior year. Then, when I got to senior year, this course was the only option, so I complained bitterly. I didn’t much like the course when I started, but that course opened up to me a new way of thinking about art and film. That course opened up for me a lifelong enjoyment of art and film.

And most importantly, Professor Frieda Texter. Alums and students, think back to orientation and to your first few days at Albright College. Today we have the wonderful POPs, whose excitement and enthusiasm fill this campus with joy. I still remember my own orientation. What I remember most was meeting my adviser, Professor Texter. I had been wandering around this building, Science Hall, which was much smaller then, but finding her office was still intimidating. I got lost. Five or six of us crammed into her little office. Since Frieda was a chemistry professor, there was chemistry stuff all around—lburets and Ehrlenmeyer flasks. It was scary and intimidating. She gave us our academic schedules for the first fall semester and told us what to expect the first day and the first week. She gave us advice on how to succeed during the first semester. Frieda was my academic adviser, and later, became my research adviser, working with me on a project on an enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase and its kinetics. At the same time, I also served as her teaching assistant when she developed the biochemistry laboratory. She helped me to identify a graduate school that balanced, for me, the personal and professional needs I had at the time. She has been a lifelong mentor and friend, and until last year, met with students in my research group and me for dinner at our association’s annual symposium.

Frieda has long been committed to Albright College. Last year, a tragic medical event sadly changed her life. She was planning to be here today, but was unable to do so. I’m grateful for all the ways that she played a part of my journey to this moment today.

Returning Home

So why did I come back to the place I started? Why did I return to Albright College?

I fundamentally believe that in higher education, the education of students—teaching, advising and mentoring—comes first.

Albright College names and claims a longstanding commitment to teaching. Frieda Texter is an example, one of several I mentioned and many I remember, of what Albright does best—supporting, guiding, and mentoring students to reach their fullest potential.

I fundamentally believe in equity in higher education, one where the barriers to full participation by all community members do not exist. Albright College names and claims a commitment to educating students of academic promise, and Albright College has made strides in its commitment to diversity. However, in equity, we have a long way to go.

I return to Albright to work with this community, as we together forge our future, a future where the education and life success of our students remains the first and most important thing we do. This future is one in which Albright College stands as a shining example of an institution that educates students, students like me, of academic promise, with the high quality, boundary-crossing education that encourages us to move beyond our disciplinary limits, while holding tight to strong foundations in the liberal arts.

This future is one where an Albright College education is fully equitable and where the barriers to full participation by all community members have been removed.

This is my dream of the Albright College of the future. Since my return to this college, I have been pursuing a series of small-group conversations. I have called this my Year of Listening and Learning. During these conversations, I’ve heard affirmation that this learning community of my dreams is the community Albright College wants to be. I’m here to be part of the work, and to help lead the work, that will enable us to get there.

Honoring our Heritage

How do we boldly move toward this dream? The future is a scary place for anyone and, as I’ve come to learn in my Listening and Learning conversations, especially for people at Albright.

As I come to an understanding of our history, it makes sense that it would lead us to fear our future. Declaring financial exigency as Albright College did in the 1990s, with financial issues regularly repeating since then, would create that fear—fear of losing our jobs, our college, ourselves. It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that you may not experience this as fear. To these eyes that I bring back to my alma mater, it feels like a fear that permeates what we do. It permeates how we interact with one another. It brings us to a full stop, a “duck in the snail shell” mentality. Let’s be safe. Let’s do it as we’ve always done it.

Today, we name and claim that fear. Today, we recognize and honor our past, its struggles and its pain. We learn from it in order to grow stronger. We are the school that is now looking and will continue to keep looking boldly at who we are, at our organizational practices and norms, our financial assumptions and model, until we create a sustainable future that we all imagine—together.

At the same time, we will honor our commitment to who we are and the best of what we are.

Recently, Jacques Berlinerblau, who delivered the 2015 Hurwitz lecture at Albright College, authored a new book, Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t. In the book he laments how, at many schools, professors don’t teach undergraduates. I know this experience well—I’ve lived it at other institutions. The author points to the small liberal arts colleges, where the emphasis is on teaching, as a counter to this phenomenon. In the book, he briefly mentions Albright College as an example. He writes that he was surprised by “how robust its commitment to the arts was,” and he talks of the opportunity at places like Albright for “undergraduates to forge meaningful relationships with their professors.”

Opportunities for undergraduates to forge meaningful relationships with professors—that is what Frieda did with me.

That is what Albright has always done—and what we remain committed to today. I’ve heard it consistently during my Listening and Learning conversations. When I’ve asked folks to share a story about when they were proud of their job at Albright, or when they were proud of Albright in general, most people share a story about a student. These stories are about students struggling to find a place, to find a way to continue, to find a way to succeed in class, on the athletic field or in the dormitories.

Our stories show our passion—individually and as an institution—to help our students succeed.  We recognize and celebrate our longstanding commitment—our heritage—to support and celebrate meaningful relationships between professors and students. At its best, this is what higher education should be. At Albright College, this is what higher education is.

Living our Values

At the same time, we must articulate and claim our core values. We need to be grounded in these values, to assure that our vision and plans for the future align with them. Thus, we look to the Albright College seal.

Take a look at the seal on your program or the banner above me. What do you see?

I see four symbols and two key words. The symbols are of an open book, a lamp, a stack of books, a laurel wreath, and words that represent our core values.

The open book affirms the value we place on academic freedom, in which all forms of truth may be pursued with rigor, candor and openness. Thus, we teach and we practice in our everyday experiences what we have learned as scholars and researchers: to verify facts, to validate sources, to search for unrecognized assumptions, and to distinguish correlation from causation.  We do this even in the turbulent and emotional time of recent weeks, when it has been difficult and challenging to do so. When the easy path would have been to do otherwise, or when the emotional path prevents us from considering how to do so.

The open book lies atop a lamp. This lamp affirms the value we place on a lifelong love of learning, of wisdom and understanding as the basis for success in life and career.

The stack of books represents the value we place on the interdependency of all forms of knowledge. It calls us to be curious, to exceed our disciplinary limits, to leave behind thinking inside the proverbial box. Albright College has pursued this from the interdisciplinary course required when I was a student, to the Connections and Synthesis courses, co-majors and interdisciplinary majors in our curriculum today. This experience of crossing boundaries, of being comfortable outside of my box, has allowed me to hold faculty appointments at different institutions in many different disciplines: biological sciences, molecular biology, computer science, physics and chemistry.

This interdependency and boundary crossing also applies to the liberal arts and the professions.  The values, knowledge, and skills learned in the liberal arts disciplines complement the values, skills, and knowledge learned in the professional programs. Albright excels at this, both in the traditional residential college and in the School of Professional Studies. The discipline might be professional, but its foundation lies in the liberal arts: experience and learning essential for life and success in today’s 21st century world.

And the words Veritas et Justitia—truth and justice—are especially important and critical in today’s world. These words affirm that the search for knowledge should not be separated from the search for wise and just solutions in human affairs and in the stewardship of the natural world.

Let me repeat that: The words truth and justice affirm that the search for knowledge should not be separated from the search for wise and just solutions in human affairs and in the stewardship of the natural world. The combined pursuit of truth and justice means we honor, nurture, and celebrate human diversity in all its forms and call into question whatever negates or endangers the dignity and worth of the human spirit.

Recent events, both those of last fall and the ones of this fall—emotional and turbulent times for all members of this community and beyond—might make some call into question whether we continue to hold this value dear. I say that it does not.

I name and claim the struggle and confusion between this value and our current world as a legitimate struggle. Albright College is the place where we are and will continue to actively engage it. However messy the process, this is the challenge, the open conversation and dialog, and the willingness to continue to learn, to validate facts and to review decisions. This is what the world must learn to do.

As we all continue to duck into our political and social corners, living in the echo chambers of the internet and social media and listening only to what we already believe, this struggle—engaged in the open and armed with the skills of active listening and civil discourse—is what our world needs today.

I celebrate what I’ve heard during the past several weeks: Albright’s willingness to engage the complex question around evolving its culture toward greater equity, social and racial justice, mutual understanding, fairness, empathy and trust.

Moving forward, these conversations, this dialog, these challenges, will not be swept under the rug.  No, they will not. 

Instead, we will move forward as Lions—as Albright Lions—to challenge, to tackle, to be leaders in understanding. We will work hard, knowing that our work will not be easy, and may and will be challenged publicly.

An open book—academic freedom.

A lamp—an invitation to a lifelong journey of learning.

A stack of books—encouragement to cross intellectual and cultural boundaries.

Words—truth and justice.

Forging our Future

The final symbol on the Albright College seal is a laurel wreath. I invite you to consider these questions:

Why a laurel wreath?

What did the laurel wreath symbolize in ancient times?

What does it symbolize for Albright College today?

Reflect on those questions for a brief moment…

In ancient Greek and Roman times, a laurel wreath symbolized victory. Laurel wreaths or crowns were awarded to victors in athletic and other competitions. But what is victory if it is not an overcoming: an overcoming of obstacles, an overcoming of our own weakness.

I say for us, for Albright College, the laurel wreath is key.

For us, it means we recognize the moment that we have—both in Albright’s history and in world history.

It means we recognize the magnitude of the challenge that remains in front of us, brought to the fore by recent events, and our willingness to embrace who we are, who we want to be, and tackle the challenges that brings.

It means that with focus on our core values, an intentional commitment to our students, keeping our vision broad and engaged in our community and engaged with the world, we will move boldly into the future. We will be victorious.

We are Albright College. We are Lions. Indeed, we are a pride of Lions.

As my brother said, “All of life’s best journeys should bring you back to where you started.” I return to Albright College to celebrate and enhance the best of what we are—our commitment to lifelong and inclusive learning, to truth and justice, to moving beyond our disciplinary limits and thinking outside the proverbial box.

We bring the best of who and what we are as teachers and as scholars into the classroom, across our campus, and into the world. I am looking forward to working with each of you as we move Albright College boldly into the future.