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Renaissance Campaign spreads message that Marylhurst has the best of both worlds

by: Cliff Newell, David Dickson buys into the phrase, “Celebrating the past, embracing the future,” as it relates to his job as the new vice president of development at Marylhurst University.

David Dickson has been been moving fast as the new vice president of development at Marylhurst University.

But he didn't realize how fast until he heard another administrator come up with a phrase describing Marylhurst that he really liked: 'Celebrating the past, embracing the future.'

'I said to her, 'That's great. That really describes what I feel about Marylhurst University. Where did you get it?''' Dickson said. 'She told me, 'I got it from you.''

He added with a laugh, 'I'm sure I stole it. It seemed so perfect.'

Every good slogan helps as Dickson heads up the Renaissance Campaign, a fundraising drive targeted with raising $26 million by the end of this decade. Dickson says the campaign will help Marylhurst build upon its unique, historic, even holy tradition and become an even greater center for education in this area.

'I feel Marylhurst is a hidden jewel in the Lake Oswego-West Linn community,' Dickson said. 'I really believe we can make this university more of a resource to the people.

'My goal is to make Marylhurst more visible and do a better job of connecting the community to the university.'

What Dickson wants to get across is that the Renaissance Campaign will help the school undergo a transformation while remaining the same. Instead of that being a tricky paradox, Dickson says this development is very much in Marylhurst's tradition.

'This campaign isn't about new buildings,' Dickson said. 'It's about making our existing buildings do a better job than ever of meeting our students' needs by making them as high tech and environmentally up to date as possible.

'We're going to modernize but do it in a way that pays attention to our historic architecture.'

While Dickson says that the university will remain committed to its liberal arts tradition, it will also expand its commitment to the Marylhurst student of its new era: An average age of 38 and seeking a degree that will enable them to achieve a change in careers. Fifty-eight percent of the students are in that category.

'We're held to strict accountability by adult students. They expect high standards. They have no time for Pablum courses,' Dickson said.

Marylhurst has recently greatly boosted its pioneering online program, delivering one-third of its credit hours online. The school is now reaching out nationally by offering degrees in MBA, real estate and undergraduate business.

'This program is very distinguished from programs at other schools, with its quality and attention to students,' Dickson said.

For his inspiration on the Renaissance Campaign, Dickson needs only to look back on the history of Marylhurst. It was founded by the Sisters of the Holy Name, who have had a remarkable role in Oregon education ever since a dozen young nuns left Canada in 1859 with little but their 'tradition of peace, social justice, serving the underserved.' The university was founded in 1893 as a Catholic women's college and moved to its Lake Oswego campus in 1929.

However, 1974 proved to be a watershed year in Marylhurst history.

'Many women's Catholic colleges were closing at that time,' Dickson said. 'It was due to a variety of factors, like Vatican II and the women's liberation movement.'

Marylhurst University closed, too. For one day. The very next day it re-opened as a center for continuing education, a transition that was spearheaded by Sister Veronica Baxter.

'They left the old model and ventured into something very new and uncharted,' Dickson said.

It was less than three months ago that Dickson decided he wanted to be part of this continuing venture to 'serve the underserved.' He had been a virtual institution at Clackamas Community College, where he had served as vice president for college advancement for 26 years, and he was just coming off a major arts campaign.

Despite his 'love affair' with CCC, Dickson thought a change in his career would do him good, and he strongly considered joining his wife in her company, Leadership Matters. But then he received another option: An offer from Marylhurst.

'I had always been interested in Marylhurst University, and I think I do best when I'm part of an organized family,' Dickson said. 'When you're floating around as a consultant you can't fully embrace an organization.'

In directing the Renaissance Campaign, Dickson believes Marylhurst has a lot to offer: Bold new programs, a student-teacher ratio that U.S. News and World Report says ranks with the best in the nation, and a tradition that is almost mystical. The campus includes a cemetery where more than 400 Sisters of the Holy Name have been laid to rest. It is truly holy ground.

'People who have driven off Highway 43 onto our campus have said they can feel the transition of the atmosphere,' Dickson said.

With a campaign that is already halfway toward meeting its financial goal, Dickson believes that the Marylhurst tradition will only become richer.

'Our hope is that this campaign will help Marylhurst remain a jewel for the next 80 years,' Dickson said.

A jewel that won't be hidden.

To get more information about Marylhurst University, go to its Web site at www.marylhurst.edu or call 503-636-814..