MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY, like other educational institutions, had to immediately and drastically change the way it educated students when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. The most dramatic decision involved the shift from in-person classes to fully online educational programs. The return of students to campus at the end of the summer for the current academic year, 18 months after the start of the pandemic, marked a long-awaited full-fledged return to the classroom.
MilMag: What has changed in the way you educate Marquette students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mike Lovell: Many things have changed. During the pandemic, we were forced to go from everything in person to everything online in nine days. I am very proud that the campus was able to do this and do our best to continue to provide a transformational education to our students. Now, in the fall of 2021, we’re back to 98% of in-person classes. What we have learned is that being in community is much better. Our students are much happier now. I don’t think anyone will take being in person for granted again. It’s an important part of what we do.
Does virtual learning have a role to play at Marquette in the future?
We have learned a lot about what we can do virtually and maybe we can supplement that with what we are doing in person. We have learned that we can teach some of our courses online. There are situations, especially for our professional graduate degrees, where we have been able to expand what we do in these spaces. We have learned to teach online. We’re much better now than when we flipped the switch. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. When we think about the future, our online portfolio will grow. We will always focus primarily on this transformational person education. But there are cases, especially for non-traditional students, where we have learned how to provide education online.
How did the faculty react to the return to class?
For those of us who have entered academia to teach, it is very energizing to be among the students. You don’t get the same energy or the same type of relationship when you’re online. I will be teaching again in the spring. I taught online last year, and it wasn’t the same experience for me. It was very difficult for me to teach online because the course I am teaching is a very practical course. It was a struggle, and I don’t think the students enjoyed the class as much as if we had been in person. I can’t wait to go back to class.
What else have you learned from the pandemic?
Mental health has become a real challenge. Before the pandemic, one in three students was seen for mental health issues. Depression, anxiety or other ailments. Once the pandemic hit, because people were isolated, it became one in two. One of the things we have really worked on is reaching out to our people and serving them in areas like mental health. We had to use technology for this. We have partnered with a group called SilverCloud Health, who have designed an app that allows students to assess where they are in terms of mental health while providing them with tools and showing them where they can get resources on the web. campus. We also had to train our teachers and staff and we actually have counselors who come into the classrooms to help our students understand what they may be facing and reduce the stigma.
Collaborations have become an important strategy for Marquette. Talk about Marquette’s collaboration with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and other types of education-business arrangements you are considering?
When I think about the future of higher education, one of the things that is very important for us is to have a much closer connection with the business community, nonprofits and health systems. to assess the skills that will be required of our students when they graduate so that they can succeed and get started quickly. For that, it is necessary to have very close relations and a constant dialogue with outside organizations. Three years ago, we launched an Office of Corporate Engagement specifically to provide this direct interaction and think about how we can help them meet their challenges, like technology. When you think of the Data Science Institute with Northwestern Mutual, which we’re partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on, the genesis around that was how to produce a workforce in Milwaukee that’s going to fill some of the gaps. techniques that we have. We’ve heard that there is a 60,000-person tech deficit in Milwaukee. So how do we create a pipeline of students? Another point of interest with the Data Science Institute is that people outside of Milwaukee see that there is a major effort going on here and that we have the infrastructure to attract more, especially from the coasts. Now we’re talking about expanding the partnership to include other higher education institutions and other businesses to really become a Milwaukee initiative that can become a national model. One of the peculiarities of the Data Science Institute is that there are many institutes across the country between industry and academia, but this is the first one we could find that was actually hosted in the industry. and not at university.
How are demographic changes affecting Marquette?
Over the next four or five years, the number of students graduating from Midwestern high schools will decline by 15-20%. It will last another decade. We know, quite frankly, that as an institution we’re going to be smaller in terms of our traditional undergraduate education. During the pandemic, about that same percentage of students decided not to pursue higher education. It’s almost as if the decline started last year. At Marquette, our traditional class (first year students) has approximately 2,000 students. We think that in the future it will be around 1,800. We are going to be smaller. Last year we made an effort to restructure ourselves to be a smaller institution. I think we are in an excellent position. Where I think our opportunity for growth lies in the non-traditional student body. How do we deliver online training, new academic programs, or even certificate or non-degree programs, whether hybrid or online? As for the so-called lost generation of men who choose not to go to college, I think our freshman class is about 57% female. We were, not so long ago, close to 50/50. One thing we need to focus on is how to reach these male populations and attract more of them to Marquette. “
How is the composition of the student population in Marquette changing?
This freshman class is the most diverse class we’ve ever had, and that trend will continue. We are very proud of it. When I first came here, the class of incoming freshmen was 9% Hispanic and 3% African American. Here in my eighth year, we are now up to 18% Hispanic and 6% African American. We have doubled these two populations. We also have the most diverse staff we have ever had, with over 20% people of color. These are very important trends. We are going to become even more diverse. As part of this, we need to make sure that we provide an experience and support students who are probably looking for something a little different from our traditional majority students in terms of how they experience campus.
What do you think is Marquette’s role in serving the community in which he exists?
When we think of our student body, we do 500,000 hours of community service per year. It is our role when we see disparities and injustices come out and be agents of change. We have so many challenges in Milwaukee that need to be addressed and we want to make sure that our faculty, staff and students are involved in solving these issues and that we use our God-given talents and skills to effect change. The Near West Side Partners Initiative, for example, is now in its seventh year. We started by focusing on security. Then we focused on creating new businesses. Over the years, we have created 41 new companies. We have done this through a number of mechanisms. Marquette teams up with Harley-Davidson for a Shark Tank-style competition where companies come to present their ideas. When they win, they not only get funding, but they also get a showcase on the west side for free.
In the era of specialization, why does Marquette continue to stress the importance of liberal arts training?
As an engineer, the most important course I took in college was a philosophy of religion course. In engineering, there is always a right and a wrong answer. Black and white. This course has shown me that the world is gray. I actually had a hard time with this course. It opened my eyes to the fact that there is not always a right or wrong answer. You must be able to synthesize Information to solve dilemmas that are not always one way or the other. Even though we are talking about specialization, why I think Marquette is such an important institution, not only locally but across the country, is because we always focus on a solid liberal arts education, no matter what your specialization is. A liberal arts education means our students will learn to problem solve, think critically, work as a team, and communicate. With these skills, no matter what is happening in the changing landscape with technology, jobs and the workforce, you will be able to add value to any organization. You will be able to learn and evolve. And you are also going to acquire ethics and learn to do things not because we can, but because we should.
What are your thoughts on Shaka Smart, who now runs Marquette’s men’s basketball program?
Shaka is great. I have already known Shaka very well. First of all, of all the coaches that I have met in my life, and I played sports growing up and I met a lot of coaches in higher education, he is a really deep thinker. He reads more than any trainer I have ever met. What I learned from Shaka, because he thinks at those levels, is that he’s not just going to be a basketball coach for the players, he’s going to be a life coach. He’s not only going to help our players be the best basketball version of themselves, he’s going to help them be the best version of themselves as people. He is genuine. He is genuine.