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Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College: Rooted to aspire higher

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College President Dottie King, right, with first-year student Sherlyn Towles at a gathering marking the beginning of the school year.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College President Dottie King, right, with first-year student Sherlyn Towles at a gathering marking the beginning of the school year.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) President Dottie King wants the world to know that SMWC is moving forward.

“We are a Catholic, liberal arts school with a tradition of empowering women,” King said. “There is no single program at this institution that defines us. You have to understand who you are as an institution. You have to recognize what you do and do it well.”

SMWC, founded by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and the Sisters of Providence in 1840, has a rich tradition. While the school administration holds tightly to that tradition, it also realizes the school must move forward to keep up with the times.

“Times have changed and you have to grow,” King said. “We conducted a program analysis a few years ago and made some hard, internal decisions. They weren’t unanimous decisions. We now need to continue to move forward.”

Still, King said students who attend SMWC will learn about the school’s heritage, specifically through its Woods Core Curriculum.

King said students are required to take part in various projects through the curriculum which teaches the legacy of the school and its relationship to the Sisters of Providence, a relationship which King said is vital.

“There are fewer Sisters of Providence on our faculty and staff now,” King said. “We’ve given a lot more intentional thought to that in recent years.

“The roots we have, we inherited,” she continued. “Those roots have grown. Being rooted means knowing who we are. I hope both (the college and sisters) are thinking of the future.”

King said she is pleased the college has an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students, including an estimated 320 students in the traditional on-campus program.

Fountain-paint-large-2When meeting with parents of a prospective student, King said she gives them the same “liberal arts spiel,” but with a twist to ensure parents that their child is at the right school.

“I tell parents we are training students today for jobs that don’t exist,” she said. “We hope we’re not assuming people know what we stand for and what we have accomplished. We’re telling them who we are. You have to be on the front side of innovation and the Sisters of Providence have always been very forward-thinking.

“We have to think, ‘What is a good number for us,’ instead of worrying about continuing to grow.”

For example, while many may believe the college churns out mostly teachers, a liberal arts degree can allow for a focus on several different concentrations, like the school’s future nursing program.

Currently, the school has only pre-nursing students, as the nursing program has not been approved as of yet. King said future SMWC nursing students will have the opportunity to spend time at Providence Health Care, located on the grounds.

“It’s being called a partnership,” King said. “But we all see the spiritual significance of it. It’s different care for persons. It’s the whole person. I want our students to experience that.”

Admittedly, King said when she arrived at SMWC there were “misperceptions,” between the sisters and those who worked at the college. But defining the school’s relationship and educating faculty, staff, students, alums and donors has been critical, she said.

King became Interim-President in 2010 and was elected SMWC’s 16th President in 2011.

Since then, she said may misperceptions have faded and there is now an even a stronger connection between the college and the sisters.

“They see (SMWC) as part of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s legacy, and so do I,” King said. “The last few years, we’ve worked to bring that closeness back. I’m determined that when I leave, it will be a stronger relationship.”

(Also see sidebar story SMWC students connecting with sisters)

(Originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

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