After navigating Mount Mary University through nearly a decade of progress, president Eileen Schwalbach is stepping aside at the end of the 2016-17 academic school year. Schwalbach feels she has positioned the institution to be able to embrace the future and tackle what lies ahead for the school and its faculty and students.
"For the past year I have been thinking about retirement and I think it’s a good time for me and a good time for Mount Mary," Schwalbach said. "I think I have been able to accomplish the things that I wanted to do for Mount Mary. Together we’ve done over $15 million worth of renovation, we have increased the endowment by over $15 million, we became a university and we launched the creative campus. So now I think it’s time for the next person to step in and to take Mount Mary into its future."
Genuine pride in her institution is clear to see when you meet Schwalbach. She feels good about the path she has put Mount Mary on and its position within the community.
Diverse student population
"I think Mount Mary is such a treasure for Milwaukee and southeast Wisconsin," Schwalbach said. "The thing I am most proud of is that we are such a diverse community. Half of our students are students of color, half of our students come from low income families and they come here and they are successful. They come here and they are not only able to fulfill their dreams, but the dreams of their families for them to succeed... and then the impact, it’s that ripple effect, the impact on the community. Our vision is to educate to transform the world; we have over 10,000 alums who are doing just that."
The school has not yet selected Schwalbach's replacement and will not do so until at least early 2017. The people she has worked with and for feel strongly that her work has assisted them in becoming a better school.
“President Schwalbach has been an outstanding leader for Mount Mary University,” said Sister Mary Anne Owens, provincial leader of Central Pacific Province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Mount Mary’s sponsoring organization. “She has devoted her heart and soul to this institution, and her deep respect for faculty, administration, staff and students is obvious. She has worked to lift them up in every way she can. That commitment is so very much a part of the SSND educational philosophy and she has always seen it as a sacred trust.”
Path to the presidency
Schwalbach became the 11th president of Mount Mary Feb. 9, 2009 after serving as acting president since Sept. 2008. Under her stewardship, Mount Mary moved up more than 20 spots in the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of private universities to No. 75 in 2015 and the number of freshman applicants increased by 50 percent. In 2012, Schwalbach presided over the change of then Mount Mary College to Mount Mary University, a name that more accurately reflects the breadth of the institution’s bachelor, master and doctoral degree programs, including its emphasis on research on teaching and learning.
"When we were about to celebrate 100 years as Mt. Mary College in 2013 it seemed like the perfect time to become Mt. Mary University for the next 100 years and beyond," Schwalbach said. "(To become a university) we did not need to be accredited by any outside agency. It was just an internal decision that was then voted on by the board of trustees."
Schwalbach started as an English teacher in the Milwaukee Public School system and began to embark on a course that led her away from teaching and into school administration. In 1993 she began teaching a single course at Mount Mary, moved to the graduate program director for about five years and that led to the opportunity to become president.
With the impending spring end to her leadership at the university, Schwalbach does not yet feel like the end is near and said she has much to do before she steps down.
"We completed a strategic plan for 2016 to 2019," Schwalbach said. "So this year I am able to help implement the first year of the plan so then the new president will have a road map to follow. And then she can fulfill her dreams and her vision."
The retirement party is still in the future for Schwalbach and she feels like she still has plenty of work to get done in the meantime.
"Right now retirement seems a long way away because I still have 8 ½ months," Schwalbach said. "I still have a lot of work that I want to do for this remaining academic year."