A Renaissance Campus

1 decade 11 months 3 hours ago Thursday, June 21 2007 Jun 21, 2007 Thursday, June 21, 2007 6:15:46 PM CDT June 21, 2007 in News

Just five years ago at Stephens College, buildings sat empty, enrollment was down, and the music that now fills the halls could have been silenced forever.

"There just wasn't that vibrancy in the classroom that existed before," Dean for the School of Design and Fashion, Monica McMurry said.

The school was looking for a new president, and the empty campus was enough to scare away another candidate.

"He just kind of looked at the numbers and looked at the job and realized it was a lot to try and overcome and to turn this school around," McMurry said. "I always say it took a woman to really do that."

And when that woman came to campus, she did it in her own unique way.

"She came and she stayed in one of the dorms the summer before she actually started," McMurry said.

After quietly moving into town, Stephens President Wendy Libby made a splash by talking publicly about the college's grave situation.

"By the time it was late September, we had described the worrisome situation to our faculty and our staff and students," Libby said.

In a few months president Libby led a wave of changes on all levels. Construction, in many ways, was underway.

"Our choice was to make a difference or to cease to exist," Libby said.

Part of the rebuilding process involved cutting faculty and academic programs. Now the school has a strategic plan, reviewed every summer by Libby and her senior staff, to make sure the college builds on a solid foundation.

The Renaissance Plan, as officials call it, takes a three dimensional approach: Raising enrollment, cutting expenses, and ramping up fundraising.

Libby says the title fits the project perfectly.

"I just believe that it's the right word because it connotes a place where art and science and performance and creativity has blossomed," Libby said.

Many changes are already visible. LRW was finished earlier this year and now houses Stephens' administration.

Enrollment is up, now around 650 students. The goal for 2009 is 900.

"There's so much energy and vitality associated with Stephens. She's been around for 175 years and when you've got that much history and people wrapped up into the culture, she is a living and breathing entity," Vice President Amy Gipson said.

Having completed her first four years at Stephens, the college gave Libby the 'Four Fold Girl' award at May's commencement.

"To recognize as it did back in the 1921 when it was given, the senior who best captures and lives out the qualities of the ten ideals," Gipson explained.

After four years on campus, Libby's influence is obvious.

"People want to be around her and follow her," McMurry said.

And Libby is loving every moment.

"In student language, I say I'm having a blast," she said.

The on-campus award wasn't the only one president Libby's won this year.

The Columbia Women's Network gave Libby its Athena Award for saving Stephens College.

Libby says the school is well on its way to meeting the goals set four years ago.

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