Denise Von Wald has stepped down as the Principal and CEO
Hello Foundation Members, Governors, Fellows, Council Members, Students, Collegians, Parents and friends of St Ann’s,
First, I would like to say it has been a genuine pleasure and privilege to lead St Ann’s College. The College’s longstanding tradition, reverence for academic success and ever evolving culture makes it a truly special place that I will always hold dear in my heart.
When I first took hold of the reigns back in 2019, I felt a little trepidation at the prospect of returning to living on campus, however I was excited by the challenge and the big strategic goals we had set for our leadership team.
My initial KPIs were:
- Arrest enrolment decline and increase retention rate
- Improve the pass rate and quality of student experience
- Maintain the prestige, tradition and culture of the 70-year-old College while transforming and increasing the professionalism of the administration, governance and operational processes
- Improving the infrastructure, student room and shared facilities
- Enhancing the management of risk, particularly those associated with residential colleges
With the help of the Council and the Foundation, we have achieved these goals and so much more. We boosted profit which in turn allowed us to add rooms, acquire properties, renovate the library, kitchen, gym and many student rooms. We increased the number of Indigenous students and students from multicultural backgrounds. We strengthened St Ann’s already strong culture. We even won the Douglas Irving High Table Cup twice, once in 2019 and again in 2021 (after a 25-year drought)! The collective efforts by the St Ann’s Council, Foundation, staff and student body should be commended.
There are two pillars that I have always tried to maintain, respect and cultivate throughout my time at St Ann’s: tradition and culture.
Even if you think of St Ann’s as a business (and I confess, I rarely do, I prefer to think of it as a mission), the business world does not forgo the importance of tradition. Many companies take pride in their histories and strive to maintain products and facilities that have been integral to their brand. Yet in staying steadfastly true to their heritage, businesses can put themselves at risk of becoming obsolete. Think of Kodak! If maintaining tradition starts to become a pretext for resisting change, and this is true of colleges too, businesses/colleges risk becoming inefficient, outdated, and noncompetitive in the modern world.
Organisations need to balance forward-thinking attitudes with the value they place on core traditions and histories. Innovation plays an important role in staying true to your heritage. If you can meet modern student demands through innovation, you will gain both the means and the capital to preserve the most valued aspects of heritage. You can see we have done this by creating transitional living with both K-Bed and Melbourne Home but the way in which we allocate these rooms by a points system is still traditional. You can’t buy a better room in our College; you must earn it.
Culture is the lifeblood of any organisation and I would say this applies in spades at St Ann’s. You can tell a lot about an organisation by the way they welcome and farewell you. A proper welcome can say “we’ve got you, you can trust us, you’re safe here.” We hope that this feeling was conveyed to all of our students past and present from move in day to the very last day as they depart. While culture can always improve, I would say that our culture is one of its strongest features that make our campus a desirable destination that now has students lining up to enter our doors.
This balance between maintaining our traditions and continuing to innovate our events, practices and culture will be key to the success of the College. And I know the College is in good hands to keep evolving over time.
While my role was to manage the day-to-day College operations, and also oversee marketing, enrolments, media, governance, finances, contractual management and philanthropy, there was another job that took top priority. I hold dear my greatest duty at St Ann’s, which was to take responsibility of both the personal and academic lives of 199 students. Thank you to all of the parents for entrusting me with our students and your children and giving me the honour of helping to transform them into school leavers and young professionals. They always make me proud.
Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, told his scouts in his farewell message to “Try to leave this world a little better than how you found it.” I have done my best to leave my touch on St Ann’s and I will be watching from afar to see how our students will change our world.