By Dr. William J. Ehmann, Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Education, Seattle University

Dr. William J. Ehmann

Dr. William J. Ehmann

The Jesuit mission of social justice is a conspicuous flame at all AJCU institutions and drives which graduate and professional programs our schools offer and where and how we offer them.

Nearing 125 years of engagement with our communities, Seattle University is especially fortunate to be imbedded in America’s fastest growing urban ecosystem and at the hub of innovations for health and wellness, computing, aerospace and customer service. Like other institutions, we have mapped these domains, and the intersections among them, to see where we are contributing and where we need to go in terms of our academic program development.

We are also passionate about tending to the overall Jesuit ethos that our graduate and professional programs live in. That means engaging the social issues of our time, whether or not academic credits are involved. By sharing a few examples in this article that surround and support our graduate and professional programs, we hope to find new conversation partners and tend more fertile ground for developing more agents of social change across the AJCU network.

Professional Practice with Purpose

The Homeless Rights Advocacy Project (HRAP) engages Seattle U School of Law students in effective legal and policy research, analysis, and advocacy work to advance the rights of homeless adults, youth and children. We develop lawyering skills not just in the classroom, but in a challenging social context, going beyond direct service to addressing root causes of homelessness and poverty. In spring 2015, under the program leadership of Sara Rankin, HRAP students released four ground-breaking policy briefs documenting how existing laws criminalize homelessness, waste financial resources, and further marginalize individuals. After graduation, our law school alumni also practice with purpose, through programs such as our Low Bono Incubator Program, led by Diana Singleton, director of the Access to Justice Institute, which provides legal services to individuals of moderate means.

In health professions, our advanced practice nursing students contribute to primary care, midwifery care, psychiatric care and public health. By being careful about our clinical placements and valuing what each student brings to the table, we are able to report that 98% of these students tell us that they plan to dedicate their care to underserved populations.

Executive Leadership for a More Just and Humane World

In the Albers School of Business and Economics, executive MBA students taking a two-quarter course must engage an area of social injustice. They lead a project that both serves their own learning and has significance with a particular community. Moreover, the project must be sustainable for at least 18 months. Coordinated by Dr. Marilyn Gist, associate dean of executive programs with the Center for Leadership Formation, our students have accomplished legislative changes on behalf of teens who age out of the foster care system, delivered training to support victims of domestic violence, and organized half-day tours for urban teens highlighting career opportunities with leading local businesses including Boeing, Starbucks, REI and Costco.

Staff Development for Educational Leadership

Our Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership (EDLR) in the College of Education is a practiced-based degree that prepares ethical and reflective professionals to guide employees and managers, even within our own organization: Seattle U regularly funds existing staff members who submit competitive applications for admission and substantially-reduced tuition. Candidates write essays on how the 3-year educational leadership degree will advance them as leaders of self, leaders at Seattle U, and leaders in a global and interdependent world. 

A Voluntary Graduate Honors Program

In support of our stated graduate learning outcomes, we offer a directed graduate student experience called Teilhard de Chardin Scholars named after the well-known Jesuit priest who wrote about the unity of knowledge, a life of action, and spiritual purpose. This is a non-credit recognition that is voluntary and open to all graduate students interested in gaining further Ignatian context for their degree work. The program was co-designed with graduate student leaders to further incentivize participation outside of class and beyond their majors.

Throughout each academic year, we flag announcements of premier campus and community events. Registrants who attend five or more designated events during the years of their degree program, and satisfactorily complete at least two reflective experiences (e.g., post-event group discussions, moderated online forums, formation exercises), earn “Chardin Scholars” honors upon completing regular graduation requirements. As a result, we are noticing a greater sense of connection among graduate students with the ongoing life of the campus, stronger discussions due to participation of graduate-level students, and hearing their appreciation for a distinguishing feature of Seattle U’s graduate education.

Photo of SU students courtesy of Seattle University.

Photo of SU students courtesy of Seattle University.

Collaboratory: “Whole-making” for “Change-making”

Seattle University is dedicated to educating the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world. Over the past two years, we have come to appreciate how students, board members and entrepreneurs are speaking of “change-making” which encompasses social change, social innovation, social entrepreneurship and social justice. Through conversations with a non-profit organization named Ashoka, we are now using change-making as an additional lens for our work, such that our education can be viewed as whole-making for the very purpose of change-making in the world. By whole-making, we mean both the whole person and the whole problem, with the goal of framework change to a more just and humane world.

Borrowing insight from Fordham University’s pioneering Social Innovation Collaboratory and working with our campus-wide change team, we are planning to launch a “Changemaker Collaboratory.” We are leveraging existing interdisciplinary centers and institutes and other units focused on innovation to help students become effective agents of change, at impact levels from direct service to framework changes. We expect to see faculty adapting existing courses, new minors and concentrations at both undergraduate and graduate levels, and new student supports within our broader ecosystem.


Jesuit institutions attend to both the content and the context of graduate and professional education, and value the real-time interplay between these components. Graduate students coming to us have typically already done some work in self-assessment, have direct experience with service, and are taking action. They hold many senior employment positions, have large community networks, and have begun to give back. Let’s recommit our institutions within the AJCU network to creative and strong support for the whole graduate student experience and, borrowing a phrase from noted business executive Indra Nooyi, generate ever greater “performance with purpose.”