Creighton Conversations: 'Distinctive Excellence' Draws New Provost to Creighton

Creighton Conversations:
‘Distinctive Excellence’ Draws New Provost to Creighton

Mardell Wilson, EdD, has served as provost of Creighton University since Oct. 1, 2020. She came to Creighton from Saint Louis University, where she served as professor and dean of the Edward and Margaret Doisy College of Health Sciences. During her long academic career, Wilson has worked to cultivate an environment in which inclusivity and appreciation for diverse perspectives are fostered and celebrated. Creighton magazine asked her the following questions:

What inspired you to apply for the Creighton provost position?

Creighton has a reputation for distinctive excellence rooted in the liberal arts and Jesuit values. The complement of robust undergraduate programs with an impressive presence in the health sciences was very appealing. In addition, I have a strong affinity to the Midwest.

How do you find Creighton, its culture and its personalities?

I am impressed by the strong devotion students, faculty and staff have to our mission. The demonstration of men and women for and with others and cura personalis are overwhelmingly evident in how people approach their studies and work, whether it is on campus, in our clinics or in a Zoom room. Clearly, the positive adaptations that everyone has made, and quite frankly endured, during the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of how our Creighton community embraces our Jesuit ideals and prevails even amid the unpredictable. I am also captivated by the dedicated service of our faculty and staff. The fact that individuals stay at Creighton for 10, 20, 30, 40-plus years is a testament to the spirit of our community and its ability to fulfill so many.

What are your priorities going forward?

I believe that Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, framed our priorities nicely in his Convocation address on Feb. 2. Fr. Hendrickson identified the importance of ingenuity, inclusivity and Ignatian charism that remain the necessary tools on our pathway forward.

Addressing the looming population statistics that find 15% fewer high school graduates in just a few short years will require us to tap our ingenuity. Diversifying our revenue stream will be essential as we work to broaden our market while maintaining a commitment to our core mission of the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. That market may include learners who have distinct personal or professional goals that may not necessarily be linked to a degree program. We need to be able to react swiftly. COVID has tested our aptitude for change and we have demonstrated our abilities to think creatively, modify pedagogy and adapt content; all important skills for the future.

Another area of emphasis is to ensure all voices and perspectives are welcomed and represented. Fostering an environment in which our students, faculty and staff feel included and respected is key to building and retaining the committed community spirit we so strongly value both in Omaha and Phoenix.  

Lastly, regardless of what efforts we are pursuing as the Creighton for tomorrow, remaining rooted in our Ignatian values is essential and will provide us with clarity for direction just as it has for well over a century.

What do you think is the future of higher education, and of Jesuit education in particular?

Higher education is experiencing disruptive change. It was certainly simmering prior to COVID, and the pandemic has turned up the heat to a full boil. We can’t ignore it, but we also can’t rush to reaction. We have to be strategic with our efforts and capitalize on the characteristic that drew me to Creighton — our distinctive excellence. Certainly, our acumen for delivering education in online and hybrid formats has escalated over the last year. Although I am confident we will remain a residential campus that draws students from all corners of the U.S. and the world who run the spectrum from committed to curious about our mission and our Jesuit values, we are positioned to explore and impact a new set of learners who will benefit not only from our exceptional content but also from the foundation upon which it is built.

What would you say to people considering enrolling at Creighton?

An education is one of the most valuable investments a person can ever make. Creighton is more than a university, or a campus, it is truly a community. It provides opportunity to learn from some of the most talented and dedicated faculty, to embrace new ideals, to make lifelong friends, and to be encouraged and supported regardless of one’s background. We have known those experiences happen in-person, and we have demonstrated we can make those experiences happen online — but regardless of where it happens, everyone is committed to preparing our learners to “go set the world on fire!”