Times Talks: Brian Bruess

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY ALEX GRUBER AND ANASTASIA MONTAVON |      EDITORS IN CHIEF

On Thursday, Sept. 21, the St. Norbert Times had the opportunity to meet with President Brian Bruess and ask him a few questions about his experience at St. Norbert College thus far and his vision of the college now and in the future.

How does it feel to be back at SNC?

“It’s been very humbling and inspiring to be back.”

What’s changed?

“Oh my gosh: I can’t even tell you all the things that have been built physically. The library, the science center, the fitness center: none of it used to be here. The student body is somewhat bigger than when I attended.

What’s more compelling is what’s the same: there’s the same mission, same charisma, same spirit the same basic “vibe” on campus. [But] we were nowhere near as articulate about our mission as we are now. Every building on campus has something about our mission now; it used to be just our former dining hall.”

What made you choose St. Norbert College as an undergraduate student?

“I was a very typical pro-admission case. I had very little knowledge about the college when I came; I decided to come here during my visit. I met some basketball players, went to the winter carnival, and sat in on a class. I think the community is what compelled me [to choose SNC]. It was definitely the visit. I remember coming and feeling really good about it.”

What are some differences and similarities between St. Catherine’s University and St. Norbert College?

“St. Catherine’s University, at its heart, is a women’s college of about 5,000 students. It’s in an urban setting and 60% of its students are in healthcare.

However, St. Paul is a city of neighborhoods, so it feels really natural being here, because De Pere has a St. Paul neighborhood feel to it. Both schools are Catholic, liberal arts, and sponsored by religious orders somewhat similar in their ideology [the Sisters of St. Joseph at SCU and the Norbertines at SNC]. I was there for 22 years. I knew I wanted to be in small, private Catholic education since I was halfway through my graduate work, so there’s this sort of natural progression to it.”

How do you hope to bring your experience and lessons from SCU to St. Norbert College?

“One of the things I’m really joyful about is that when you take a position like this, you have a certain amount of what you know about an organization or what you think you know or what you’ve been told. And then you have an experience of reconciling this knowledge with what you’re experiencing.

I’m a listen-and-learn, collaborative leader, partly because of who I am and partly because of my time at SCU.

I think that what the college needs in its character and ethos is something I can give. I like to use appreciative inquiry: to start from the strengths and build the institution from that, from the center, and then to ask how we proceed to the future from there.

I think evidence-based leadership is key to help drive our decision-making: the faculty and board don’t want someone coming in and saying, ‘Here are the five new programs we’re going to do.’ We have to ask the faculty and board what they need.

I’ve been in almost every department of the college system. I’m going to be very focused with trying to engage with the community: the businesses, the non-profits, the healthcare system. I’ve also spent a lot of time working with issues of equity and inclusion. We have lots of work to do there on lots of different fronts [at SNC] like building an equity inclusion model and attracting and retaining students and faculty of color.”

What is your understanding of heritage and mission at St. Norbert College?

“Heritage and mission are not two synonymous words.

With heritage, first I think of the Norbertine tradition. The Catholic, liberal arts and Norbertine traditions are three very powerful individual ideals: the true power of our mission is the integration of the three.

The Catholic intellectual tradition is about faith and reason, analogical imagination, both/and thinking. The Norbertine tradition is about stabilitas, localitas, communio and actio – that you’re acting for justice and ‘prepared for every good work.’

The motto “to teach by word and example” moves us into the liberal arts, where we’re seeking truth and knowledge and understanding for wisdom. Each of these three traditions hold the common good as the reason for their existence.

Mission gives us a sense of purpose and a reason for being. Our light at the college is our mission. We do it through the lenses of communio, of the Norbertines of the liberal arts. Our mission and our heritage is first for human flourishing and then for the common good.

It has never been  more the case than today that the world needs St. Norbert graduates. For me, it’s inspiring. The presidency has a vocational nature; I’ve been called to this work.”

What is your favorite meal at the cafe so far?

“First of all, it’s amazing, food service. It’s so hard to choose. My basic food groups are anything potato, anything cheese and anything fish, so I was really impressed when I saw the potato bowl. That has got to be one of the sweetest things ever.

[Dining Services] asked me what I wanted to add under the president’s name on the menu. I want to play on the BB of my name, so I’m thinking of a black bean burger or some burger with four or five “b”s in it. I’m also really happy that the food here is basically one price for all you can eat.”

Is there anything else you want to share with us and the college community?

“It is so profound for us to see how healthy and vibrant the college community is, and I know that we are always looking to do better. I’m thrilled to be here and excited to see what students have. I think together the community is in a position to take something pretty fantastic and make it even better, [to] extend and strengthen and make more of it. I think that’s our task, so that the human flourishing we seek for our students and ourselves is  more robust and more sustained and that it’s all for the common good.  I just hope students take advantage of everything they can and engage fully, and that will lead toward their goals.”

 

The St. Norbert Times thanks President Bruess for taking the time to speak with us and, through us, to the college community.

President Bruess’ inauguration will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 2:30 p.m. in the Walter Theatre in the Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. Visit http://www.snc.edu/inauguration/events.html to see more Inaugural Week events.

Check out the next issue of The St. Norbert Times for our  interview with Dr. Carol Bruess about her time at, and thoughts, on SNC.

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