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Fr. Paul Taylor, who took on the role of 18th president of Saint Vincent College in July, said the college must stay current with advances in technology — in the resources and in the courses it offers its students.
“We face ever-changing needs for our students and alumni,” Taylor said during his inaugural address Friday in the Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica on the campus of the 173-year-old Benedictine college in Unity. “Making higher education affordable and preparing our graduates for successful careers and lives of meaning and service to others are at the top of the list.”
In an earlier conversation with the Tribune-Review, Taylor, 53, pointed to the renovation and expansion of the college’s Dale B. Latimer Library — slated for completion this coming spring — as a step in that direction. “Critical to its renovation was information and technology,” he said.
The $22 million project adds 13,000 square feet to the library — along with a computer lab, a video production suite, a writing and tutoring center and a social space with a barista cafe.
Taylor also cited new majors in business data analytics and data science that will be offered beginning next fall.
Students in the data science major will develop skills in computer science, applied math and statistics in order to mine data for insights and to develop processes for analyzing data. Business data analytics students will pursue skills in business and statistics to identify trends and develop visual presentations to help businesses make strategic decisions.
Taylor said, “We’re going to prepare our students in these two new majors for cutting-edge work” in jobs that are in high demand and pay accordingly.
During Friday’s address, he cautioned, “As wonderful as the exponential expansion of our access to information may be, it carries a danger that the mind of a great liberal arts institution must avoid.
“We must never confuse information with wisdom, or data for deeper truth.”
Taylor, a Benedictine monk for 31 years and priest for 25 years, succeeds Br. Norman W. Hipps, who retired after nine years as president. Hipps returned to classroom duties.
Taylor previously served for seven years as the college’s executive vice president. He assisted in fundraising campaigns for the college, including a $100 million effort meant to boost Saint Vincent’s endowment and scholarships. The money also provides for campus improvements including the library expansion and a planned update of the student life and humanities hub and the college’s dining services.
In proclaiming Taylor president, Saint Vincent board chairman J. Christopher Donahue called him “a living embodiment of what Catholic higher education means in our time — a competent integration of faith and reason, expressed in practical service for the betterment of our students, of our church, and of our society.”
Donahue cited Taylor’s leadership as a factor in Saint Vincent gaining notice in a recent New York Times article for its high graduation rate, with 88% completing a degree program in six years.
Regarding enrollment, Taylor expressed pride that Saint Vincent draws strongly from the region’s college-age population but noted the school is “looking to enhance our geographic reach.”
Of 1,298 Pennsylvania residents enrolled in the college’s undergraduate programs in the fall of 2018, 1,070 were from Westmoreland County and six other Western Pennsylvania counties. About 360 hailed from other states, while 16 were from foreign countries.
Among factors that may have increased the college’s profile is the new movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which stars Tom Hanks as local native Fred Rogers — the beloved children’s television host whose archives are housed on the Saint Vincent campus, at the center named for him.
Among those attending the inaugural ceremony was Rogers’ widow, Joanne.
“The people that you walk with indicate your quality,” Taylor said. “We’re really pleased that Fred entrusted to us his legacy in the Fred Rogers Center.
“To have the wisdom of his years here for scholarly research is critically important. For us to be able to continue the good work of Fred Rogers is a great privilege.”
Taylor, who grew up in St. Marys, earned a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics at Saint Vincent in 1987 and graduated from Saint Vincent Seminary in 1991 with a master of divinity degree. He received a master’s degree in mathematics from Duke University in 1993 and a doctorate in higher education from Boston College in 1998.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .