From its roots as a small Catholic girls’ school with five students to a comprehensive university with thriving undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and professional programs, Webster University is at the forefront of furthering innovative and impactful educational experiences. Under Dr. Beth Stroble’s leadership, 14,500 diverse students are inspired to take full advantage of an accessible higher education, and the St. Louis home campus remains the hub of this flurry of educational activity.
“We welcome a large variety of students,” said Dr. Beth Stroble, president of Webster University. “These are students who want to carve out a unique future. They are individually very interesting people who aren’t cut out of a mold. We have musical performers, actors, finance students and classroom teachers — the academic variety is broad. Our Webster students are able to flourish as individuals while being true to themselves.”
Stroble leads the mission for this worldwide institution to encourage and transform students for individual excellence and global citizenship. She expands partnerships locally and globally, strengthening the local university’s reach and impacting 60 cities in the U.S., eight countries and four continents.
Tell us about your career path in education.
After graduating from college, I began my career teaching high school English, speech and drama. I was very happy as a high school teacher; however, a life event caused me to rethink and take a new direction in my career. My first husband died of cancer, and at that point, I took some time off from teaching to regroup and figure out next steps. During that time, I earned a second master’s degree. I then remarried, and my new husband and I decided to get our doctorate degrees and move into higher education.
The path that led me to becoming president of Webster University goes back to wanting to remove barriers to success, whether you are a classroom teacher, a dean or a professor. As president, I feel it’s my responsibility to remove those barriers for young people, students, alumni, faculty and staff, and for St. Louis and the communities we serve. It’s a broader way of impacting the community, but it’s still in the role of educator to be a champion for those who may have not had opportunities for success.
Few women are leading universities. Can you speak to that?
It had been 40 years since Webster hired a woman as a president. The last woman before me would have been Jacqueline Grennan Wexler who was the nun who helped Webster transition from a Catholic institution to being independently governed.
National data shows that 30 percent of college or university presidents are women. I’m definitely in a minority among my peer group, there’s no question about that. In the St. Louis region, I know women colleagues who are presidents of community colleges, but not necessarily a four-year institution.
How does a Webster education advance the future of St. Louis?
We help students realize their potential — and potential can mean many things. It can mean being engaged citizens contributing back to their families and communities. It can also mean having the earning power that makes St. Louis stronger economically.
We strive to make higher education accessible to the greater community. It’s why we’ve had a downtown campus for over 40 years. This makes it easy for St. Louisans and corporate partners to educate their workforce. We also have an art gallery that is used for speakers and conferences. We recently hosted speaker Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement.
Our students have been active tutors in the community for 25 years, reaching over 10,000 students. The Student Literacy Corps is a community service program through which Webster students are trained and placed as reading tutors in St. Louis-area schools. The program helps new and struggling readers to increase their literacy skills and provides tutors with meaningful teaching and community service experiences.
Why are topics of diversity and inclusion important for Webster?
I think back to how Webster started. We were founded by women in 1915 before women could even vote. Today, we have students that come here from all over the world and have campuses with professors and students in Europe, Asia and Africa. We also serve students on 20 different military bases.
For 26 years in a row, Webster has been cited as the number one university in the country for awarding master’s degrees to African-Americans. Our history and record say that we care about diversity.
The only way to move forward and be better at understanding and valuing differences is to engage in learning more about each other. If universities and cities work together hand and glove, we’ll make faster progress. To be true partners, we need to struggle through the topics on which St. Louis needs to move forward — topics like diversity and inclusion.
What is next for Webster?
This time of year every university begins to look forward to commencement day. We will hold our 99th annual commencement at The Muny in Forest Park and our speaker this year is Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. He will be very inspirational because his story is an indicator of how one person’s leadership can make a difference. Indeed, he has.
We are also excited to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Conservatory of Theatre Arts April 19-22. We’ve provided 50 years of talent on the stage, behind the scenes, in local theatres, in film and on TV. We are so proud to claim Academy Award nominees, Broadway directors and choreographers, Tony Award winners, Emmy Award winners and other incredibly talented artists. The Conservatory is nationally renowned as a catalyst for success. Many alumni are coming into town that weekend, and we are eager to welcome them back here.
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