2015-2016 Annual Report

President’s Report: A Year of Boosting the "Both/And" Brand

“Instead of being oppressed by the Tyranny of the OR, highly visionary organizations liberate themselves with the Genius of the AND. Instead of choosing between A or B, they figure out a way to have both A and B.”

These words, written by the acclaimed organizational coach, Jim Collins, and presented in his well-researched book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, beautifully depict the Conrad Grebel University College genius. 

From its inception in 1963, Grebel has been unapologetic about its unique both/and identity and distinctive value as a Mennonite liberal arts college affiliated with the University of Waterloo, the #1 comprehensive research university in Canada, rated the most innovative campus in Canada, and among top STEM universities in North America, along with Stanford, UC Berkeley, and MIT. Over a half-century ago, the then fledgling UW Engineering school asked the Catholics, Anglicans, the United Church, and Mennonites to provide liberal arts colleges for their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students. The Mennonites were the last to “sign on”—taking the full measure of discernment. The result? We became and remain the ONLY Mennonite academic institution of higher learning in North America that has forged this kind of vibrant, innovative partnership with a world-class public research institution! A partnership that has remarkably elevated our distinctiveness—our ability to “shine our light”—our Anabaptist values—to thousands of students and touch many lives. 

Today, more than ever, Conrad Grebel represents the best of both worlds. We are a special blend of innovation and tradition. We are an academic, residence, and centre “home” for students, faculty, staff and community that is both large and small; full of prestige and personal attention; at the cutting edge of career preparation and engaged faith formation. Our very mission, core values, and legal status highlight the beauty of our distinctive both/and genius: we are committed to:
  • “seek wisdom” and “nurture faith” 
  • “to serve church and society” 
  • to engage in “scholarly excellence” and “compassionate service.” 

We are both an independently governed university with significant Mennonite representation, and a college with specialized accredited graduate and undergraduate academic programs affiliated with the University of Waterloo. Indeed, our new strategic plan: “Extending the Grebel Table: 2015-2020,” trades on the University of Waterloo strategic plan and elevates our distinctiveness as an Anabaptist inspired rigorous liberal arts institution. 

In particular, 2015-2016 was a special year for Conrad Grebel University College in elevating our distinctiveness and boosting our both/and brand. Let’s begin with exceptional people. We hired two new innovative academics, Carol Penner and Matthew Bailey-Dick to lead two new highly specialized programs: Practical Theology, a pastoral ministry stream of our Master’s program in Theological Studies, and the Anabaptist Learning Workshop (ALW), a new exciting one of a kind continuing education certificate program in partnership with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC). 

Susan Schultz HuxmanIn special practices, we began the year with a memorable commencement that elevated our distinctive ethos of “extending the Grebel table” with an invitation to embrace “a diversity of utensils.” We started our year with a commencement that included graduate students and we ended the year with a celebrative convocation for our largest graduating class. In June 2016, we hosted our first-ever Global Mennonite Peacebuilding Conference and Festival—an historic gathering that brought 200 academics, artists, and activists from 21 countries and 5 continents. In new Grebel residence practices, we added “Friday Flicks” and “Fill the Table Fridays” to our long-standing unique practices of chapel programs, community supper, Camp Trillium weekend, and Taste of Grebel. We celebrated the International Day of Peace with an entire week of peace education events.

In maximizing our special place, we continue to find integrated and creative ways to use our new 25,000 square feet of spaces that the successful “Next Chapter Campaign” of academic expansion brought us. The last smiles and pennies of pledges on our $6.4 million dollar fund raising campaign—the largest in our history—were collected from a whopping 1304 donors at the end of the year. We celebrated in characteristic both/and style by inviting donors to the Brubacher House to watch fireworks on Canada Day sponsored by the University of Waterloo. In addition, this year we made major improvements to the academic wing of the college, both structurally and aesthetically, a new exercise room was added to Grebel residence, and we dedicated the Epp Incubator in the Kindred, formerly MSCU, Centre for Peace Advancement.

A spotlight on convocation (our graduation exercises) this year aptly illustrates our both/and genius. Our places for convocation celebrate our unique academic model. First, we hold the ceremony on the campus of the University of Waterloo. Nearly 700 friends and family witnessed a record 145 undergraduates and 17 graduate students walk across the stage, share their ambition, and receive their recognition. Then, we hold the reception with our signature delicious foods on the campus of Conrad Grebel. We ask friends and family members of graduates to join us “across the creek”—a wonderful organic metaphor that bridges the big specialized place and the small liberal arts place. Indeed, our two campuses are two different places imbued with rich and complementary meaning. The picture perfect weather day allowed us to linger along the path from the high-tech university to the high-touch college. 

2016 Convocation

Our people who speak at convocation celebrate our unique mission “to serve church and society” and comment on the unique vantage point that a Grebel-UW education affords them. Our convocation speaker, John Neufeld (BA ’96) Executive Director at House of Friendship, said to our graduating students: “Grebel has given you the gift of `extending the table.’ A table where all faiths, cultures, backgrounds and academic disciplines gather and listen to each other and learn from each other.” Undergraduate valedictorian, David DeVries, noted that Grebel allows students to “step out of their comfort zone” and “be rewarded with heightened understanding, loving friendships and beautiful expressions of who we are” all the while “choosing to do something really hard”—earn a degree at the University of Waterloo! In the greetings prominently positioned in our convocation program, University of Waterloo President, Feridun Hamdullahpur writes: “As you know the University of Waterloo stands as a proud partner with Conrad Grebel in its search for justice, wisdom, and peace for the world.” And David Martin, Executive Minister of MCEC writes: “ As graduates of Conrad Grebel, you have been blessed with a unique education that has been shaped by academic excellence, the values and beliefs of the Anabaptist faith community, and the gift of many new relationships.” 

As we celebrate another healthy year, it is my hope that you can appreciate anew the unique institution that is Conrad Grebel University College. Each section of this report highlights ways in which Grebel has elevated its distinctiveness. Our affiliation with a public university has equipped us with special high-end research and teaching capacity. Our affiliation with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada has equipped us with the capacity to build community and teach the whole student—intellectually, socially, and spiritually. 2015-2016 marked another “best of both worlds” for us. Here are 3 classic examples from each of our programs: 

In academics, we document scholarly achievement and service to church and society as a comparison output metric. This year, Grebel faculty produced 26 publications and resourced the church and church agencies 39 times! Alicia Batten (left) had the most publications; Derek Suderman (right) the most sermons! 

In residence, our students study extremely hard to stay on top of what some have described as “punishing” programs. Despite the demands of a world-class university, they still make time to engage in service projects of all kinds. Over Reading Week, many students went to Colorado to assist Mennonite Disaster Service. The supervisor said of our Grebel students: “We had no idea your students would come so prepared to work hard, be enthusiastic, and connect with the people in their communities.” 

In the Centre for Peace Advancement, one of the 12 “incubator” members is a group called “The Landmine Boys.” They are enterprising engineering students in the Velocity Centre who won start-up money to further develop their prototype of a robotic device to diffuse landmines in war-torn countries. They have come to the CPA to learn more about the social and intercultural dimensions of conflict. This is technology innovation and social innovation, both/and genius, at its best! 

The picture on the cover of this annual report—one of my favorites—shows Brubacher House, the oldest Mennonite farmhouse still left on the large Waterloo campus. It is now a living museum that Grebel operates. The Mennonite farmstead bumps up against a large technology park including the powerful “Open Text”—an international digital hub. Grebel’s unique location allows us, as educators like the apostle Paul on Mars Hill, to speak into Athens and Jerusalem. Reason and revelation, facts and values, faith and academics come together every day for us. And give us our mandate to “challenge mind and spirit”; to live into our mission “to seek wisdom, nurture faith, and pursue peace and justice in service to church and society.”

Susan Schultz Huxman, President

Read the complete Annual Report (PDF)