A year in the making: Dr. Jagger’s first year as Newman president

Aug 16, 2021
Dr. Kathleen Jagger

Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D., MPH, completed her first year as president of Newman University on July 1, 2021. This fall the Newman community will celebrate Jagger’s inauguration.

In the spirit of the upcoming community-wide celebration Oct. 7, the following is an overview of Jagger’s first year as Newman president.

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Meeting Jagger

Jagger was named the 12th president of Newman University after a nine-month public search process that ended in June 2020. She replaced Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., who retired in December after more than 12 years leading the university.

Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D., MPH
Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D., MPH

Jagger has a doctorate in microbiology, a master’s degree in public health and a bachelor’s degree in zoology. In 1979, she began teaching at a medical school and has continued to teach at various institutions ever since. In addition to being a professor, Jagger served numerous administrative and leadership roles at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, for 13 years. She is also the former vice president of academic affairs and former acting president of Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky.

With extensive higher education and leadership experience under her belt, Jagger said she felt called to the opportunity to serve as president of Newman. Particularly at a university “well-known for its sciences, nursing and allied health programs,” she added. 

She is married to Dr. Jim Jagger, who formerly served as director of athletic medicine and team doctor for the University of Kentucky athletics. The couple has two grown children, Matthew and Mark.

A faith-based identity

Jagger, who was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools through most of her younger education, is the second laywoman to serve as president at Newman in its 88-year history. 

“My faith is of primary importance to me and I believe that asking students to explore their own faith tradition, or lack thereof, is an essential part of a liberal education and becoming an adult who is focused on serving the needs of others,” Jagger said. 

She added, “It is my hope to spend the rest of my career serving at a Catholic university because it allows me to live my faith through all that I do.”

Bob Beumer
Bob Beumer

Bob Beumer joined the Newman staff as vice president of institutional advancement in June 2021. Beumer was Jagger’s first major hire among the senior leadership team, and was the clear candidate of choice for “strengthening capacity in advancement,” Jagger said.

Beumer said one of the biggest draws to the university was Jagger’s dedication to her role as president of Newman.

“I learned her vision for the university, and the excitement and passion that she’s bringing really sold me on [the role],” Beumer says. “I really believe in President Jagger’s leadership. Newman is moving forward, and I’m looking forward to being part of that positive momentum.”

Fostering a faith-filled community

At the 2020 annual fall staff and faculty meeting, Jagger addressed the importance of respecting the dignity of every person — a value that is present both in Catholicism as a whole and within the Newman Code.

“If we truly believe in our Catholic calling to look for the face of God in every human being, we must take a serious look at the diversity and inclusion on our campus in the context of recent events,” Jagger stated. 

She continued, “Christ ministered to the marginalized, undervalued and the unrecognized. Only by practicing humility and self-criticism can we effectively serve the next several generations of college students. Only by doing so can we follow in the footsteps of our founders.”

This is why, starting with the 2021-22 academic year, Newman is offering its new Catholic Promise and Catholic Leaders of Tomorrow grants

Catholic Promise, Catholic Leaders of Tomorrow

The Catholic Promise grant is available to any first-time college student from a Catholic high school who attends Newman as a full-time student the first term after their high school graduation. The Catholic Leaders of Tomorrow benefits college-bound students who were unable to attend a Catholic high school.

“The grants were established in an effort to serve more Catholic students by making a Newman education more affordable to them,” Jagger said. “We believe that making this investment will provide more opportunities for students to experience Newman’s degree of difference.”

She added, “I truly believe there is no better education for these times than a Catholic, values-based, liberal arts education.” 

A valiant vision

In order to connect with the staff and faculty of Newman, Jagger spent several hours meeting with individual departments and teams of the university, as well as alumni.

Listening to Newman alumni has been a high priority of Jagger’s. She spent her first year attending several National Alumni Board meetings, meeting in person and communicating via Zoom calls with small groups of alumni. Jagger also traveled with Dana Beitey, director of alumni relations, to meet former Newman graduates while en route to the May graduation celebration for Master of Social Work students in Colorado Springs.

Jagger’s second month on the job also included a special connection with two past presidents and a former interim president of Newman — Sister Tarcisia Roths, ASC, Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., and Teresa Hall Bartels. Meeting these women allowed Jagger to build on her knowledge of the university’s operations and rich liberal arts history.

(left to right): Sister Tarcisia Roths, ASC, Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D. and Teresa Hall Bartels.
(Left to right): Sister Tarcisia Roths, ASC, Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D., and Teresa Hall Bartels.

“Liberal arts students are known to be inquisitive, quick learners who do not think in narrow, siloed manners,” said Jagger. “Our collective job is to cultivate in our students a love of learning that will transcend their time at Newman.”

Any first-year president can naturally expect challenges to arise from serving in the new role. However, Jagger has the added obstacle of leading the university through the course of a worldwide pandemic. 

“The accomplishment here was that the university listened carefully to all concerns and created a safe environment,” Jagger said. “Newman University remained open all year with a relatively small number of COVID-19 cases and no hospitalizations from COVID-19.”

Multiple staff members stated that Jagger’s leadership played a major role in this success.

Joanna Pryor

“Dr. Jagger has handled the COVID-19 pandemic with calm and grace,” Joanna Pryor, director of athletics, said. Other staff and faculty members agreed with Pryor’s sentiments, including Sister Therese Wetta, ASC, director of mission effectiveness.

“It is a powerful statement and true testament to Dr. Jagger’s efforts,” Sister Therese said.

Setting clear goals

Faculty and staff were given a snapshot of Jagger’s four goals established for the future success of the university.

Her goals are that Newman University:

  • Will be the Catholic University of choice for Kansas and the region.
  • Will flourish as a leader in Catholic education, service and scholarship, and be seen as an innovator in teaching and learning worthy of benefactors’ investments. 
  • Will be a welcoming place for all students, faculty, staff and visitors that will continue to serve those underrepresented in the college population.
  • Will develop a culture that sees diversity among students, faculty and staff as an asset — not a threat or a limitation.

“We all help create a space for that love of learning — for truth-seeking — by giving ourselves over to creativity on behalf of our students,” Jagger said. “In addition to being educators, each of us must be a recruitment, retention and graduation specialist.”

A graduate's graduation cap is decorated with the words "Be the change."

She added, “We need to work together to achieve our goals, to support each other, to grow together. We need to break down the silos; being a thriving university requires a precision team sport mentality.” 

Building new opportunities

A “students first” focus was one of Jagger’s main objectives from the beginning of her Newman presidency.

Making this a reality involved forming partnerships with the Education Advisory Board to increase the number of first-year students, as well as partnering with Credo’s “Moving the Needle” project through the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to improve retention.

We all help create a space for that love of learning — for truth-seeking — by giving ourselves over to creativity on behalf of our students.”

Dr. Kathleen Jagger

“We have also reallocated a position in admissions — the associate director of graduate admissions — to focus on increasing admission rates,” Jagger said.

Additionally, a number of new concentrations and certificates in business were added to better meet the needs of adult learners, including the new Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program. Led by Associate Professor Larry Straub, the DBA program allows students to focus on areas that are of most interest to them.

“This will greatly benefit their careers moving forward,” Straub said. “The DBA program will also be a hybrid model, which will provide greater flexibility for students and allow pursuit of the degree while continuing to work full time.”

Straub added, “We are very excited to get this impactful and dynamic program started in 2022.”

Establishing the President’s Student Cabinet

In March 2021, Jagger established the President’s Student Cabinet for the purpose of getting to know the wants and needs of the campus and its students.

Students walk on a sidewalk on campus.

The cabinet, which consists of 13 students from different years and majors, meets on a monthly basis during the academic year. Each meeting allows these students to meet directly with Jagger, share information, seek feedback and receive answers to their questions.

“What makes it really valuable to me is to hear different students’ points of view,” Jagger said. “We’re here to help them, and knowing them better as a group, hearing what they’re interested in, what they’re concerned about and what they’re happy about, I think is going to be what makes it valuable to me. It’ll give me a better lens with which to think about the future of Newman.”

Christine Schneikart-Luebbe
Christine Schneikart-Luebbe

Christine Schneikart-Luebbe, dean of students, believes the cabinet provides a direct pipeline that could impact real change on campus.

“President Jagger already has open office hours where students are encouraged to drop in and see her,” Schneikart-Luebbe said. “The cabinet expands that reach and intentionally creates a mechanism for her to work directly with our greatest and most precious resource: our students. It is exciting to have a president who is so committed to interacting with our students.”

Celebrating Jagger’s first graduating class

May 2021 marked the first Newman commencement ceremony for Jagger.

She congratulated the graduates following the conferral of the degrees, then invited them to recite the Newman Code as new members of the Newman Alumni Association. With Jagger’s lead, graduates pledged to live in the spirit of critical consciousness, respect the dignity of every person, honor both personal and institutional integrity and strive to embrace all humanity.

Jagger presents a degree to a 2021 graduate.
Jagger presents a degree to a 2021 graduate.

Jagger summed up the day’s events into one word: “joyful.”

“I’m grateful for these students, and that Newman had the opportunity to partner with them on their higher education journey,” Jagger said. “I’m proud of each and every one of them for making it through this challenging last 18 months or so.”

A hopeful horizon

When Jagger first applied to the position of president at Newman, she said it was the mission, core values and Newman Code that made her feel “called to the presidency.”

“To empower students to transform society is an action-oriented objective that requires we educate students, expand their frames of reference, and introduce them to some of the great thinkers of all time,” Jagger said. 

“This mission requires that we teach students valuable critical thinking, speaking and writing skills but also inculcate in them the responsibility that comes with that education to change the world through a lens of critical consciousness that hungers for peace and justice.”

Jagger’s inauguration ceremony will take place on the Newman campus Oct. 7, 2021.

Jagger sits at her new president's desk.