Seattle University: A History of Excellencephoto caption: students pose during a mathematics lesson.You are viewing the Text-Only version, launch the Flash site
1991-2003: Towards the Future

With a new law school, a beautiful new chapel, and visits from some of the world’s most distinguished citizens, SU began to take a visible role on the international stage. It also added substantially to its scholarships and endowments, while retaining its commitment to teaching.

The rising prestige of Seattle University could easily be gauged by a glance at its distinguished visitors: Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Corazon Aquino. But they were only symbols of the substantial underlying improvements in the school’s fortune.

Thanks to successful fundraising and a growing reputation for excellence in teaching, there have been big additions in recent years. Among the largest was a law school acquired from the University of Puget Sound in 1993—the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream of Father Sullivan.

Sullivan also led an effort to build the beautiful Chapel of St. Ignatius, which has attracted international praise. With a guiding design concept of “a gathering of lights,” it is now the center of worship and spirituality for the campus.

In 1996, Fr. Sullivan retired, opening the door for Fr. Stephen V. Sundborg. Father Sundborg has placed the university’s focus on educating moral leaders who do the right thing regardless of pressure or public opinion. Not surprisingly, this has led him to be a strong promoter of social justice and an active supporter of programs that urge students and faculty to make a difference in the lives of others. Architecturally, the most visible monument of Sundborg’s tenure has been the Student Center building, which offers students a number of facilities for study, entertainment, and relaxation.

At the same time the university has seen an increased focus on building its academic strength. Through generous donations, it now has a large number of endowments for professors, research, and student scholarships. Seattle University now regularly ranks in the top ten regional universities in the western United States.

Seattle University acquires law school

For a long time, Father Sullivan wanted to add a law school to Seattle University, but without success. Then, in 1993, events took a dramatic turn, when the University of Puget Sound offered to transfer its School of Law. It later turned out that UPS had not considered any another university, a sign of SU’s new prestige and confidence.

Change is never easy for an institution, so Sullivan immediately sought to calm student and faculty anxiety during his initial visit to the school’s Tacoma campus. His efforts and those of others paid off. By 1994, when graduating students had a choice of which university’s name they wanted on their degree, all chose SU.

In 1999, the school was shifted to a new home on the Seattle University campus. Fittingly, it was named William J. Sullivan Hall.

Father Sundborg: the 21st university president.

Father Stephen V. Sundborg, SJ, grew up in the Territory of Alaska and entered the Jesuit order in 1961. He was ordained as a priest in Seattle in 1974 and completed his doctoral studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1982. From there, he taught theology at Seattle University until 1990, and went on to serve as Provincial of the Northwest Jesuits from 1990-1996.

In 1997, Father Sundborg was selected to succeed Father Sullivan as the 21st president of Seattle University. Since then, his key objectives have been to encourage student-centered education, enhance academic excellence, and develop resources to support a growing student population.

During his tenure, Seattle University has built a new law school building, a student center, and several student residences. Throughout his tenure, Father Sundborg has been strongly committed to promoting social justice, a core value of the Jesuit Catholic education. He actively supports programs that encourage students, faculty, and staff to make a difference, whether in the local community or developing countries. In addition, he has bestowed honorary degrees on Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Corazon Aquino.

Father Sundborg’s leadership position within the Church, campus, and the community has prompted him to reflect, in public speeches and writing, on the nature of leadership and need to cultivate a new generation of moral leaders, those people of “strength and integrity who can pivot like a compass toward what is right regardless of public opinion or pressure.”

Chapel of St. Ignatius opens

In 1991, Father Sullivan announced his intention to build a chapel that would not only serve as a center of worship for the university, but also be an architectural gift to the surrounding community. After a competition involving more than 40 firms, a campus committee selected Steven Holl, a New York-based architect, who had been born in nearby Bremerton.

Holl’s design concept would be “A Gathering of Different Lights,” which conceived of the chapel as “seven bottles of light in a stone box.” Light passes through each of the bottles to bathe the walls in pools of colored light. During the day, each part of the chapel glows with colored light from two different sources. Interior lights at night create a similar effect, transforming the chapel into a beacon of multicolored light radiating outward to the campus and city.

The chapel was dedicated on April 6, 1997 and has since won numerous architectural awards. A scale model of it has also become part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Campus welcomes Mandela, Tutu, and Aquino

Starting in the late ’90s, Seattle University has played host to a number of world leaders and dignitaries. On December 9, 1999, it welcomed former South African president Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel to campus. After addressing a student convocation and receiving an honorary degree, Mandela led a discussion on the challenges facing Africa.

SU would welcome another leader of the South African struggle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on January 25, 2000 and confer on him an honorary doctorate of humanities. Then, on May 3, 2002, Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines, would pay a visit and lead a discussion on social justice, before receiving an honorary degree.

SU receives new Student Center

Though there have been many additions to the SU campus in recent years, few have proved more welcome than the 64,000 square foot Student Center. The building houses a wide variety of facilities, including a conference center, café, bistro, cafeteria, and even a 20 foot fireplace. In addition, the building includes free high-speed wireless Internet access for students and visitors alike.

Dedicated on October 2, 2002, the center is the culmination of thoughtful planning and bold vision. Planning for the center had begun more than 20 years earlier by Father Sullivan and was brought to a close by Father Sundborg.

Life on campus

Even with its new facilities and new confidence, Seattle University still has students doing what they do best: having fun. These images come from a variety of contemporary campus events.

Steady and Visionary Leadership

When Stephen Sundborg, S.J., celebrated his 10th anniversary as president of Seattle University, in September 2007, he had already doubled the average tenure of college presidents. Fr. Sundborg has done so much more than hold down the fort; he has guided the university toward its vision of becoming the premier independent university in the Northwest.

Under Sundborg's leadership, applications to the university have doubled, and the quality of applicants has increased. SU's undergraduate, and especially its graduate, programs have grown, as the university has also become one of the most diverse independent universities in the West.

Sundborg also led the For the Difference We Make Campaign for Seattle University, which concluded in 2009 as the most successful fundraising effort in the history of the institution, raising nearly $169 million, and surpassing the original goal of $150 million as well as the revised target of $160 million.

Perhaps his most notable achievement thus far, Sundborg rearticulated SU's mission statement. Distinctly Jesuit-Catholic, the statement reads: "Seattle University is dedicated to educating the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world."


SU's run of being ranked among the top 10 institutions in the West by U.S. News & World Report has continued. State-of-the-art facilities such as the College of Nursing's Clinical Performance Laboratory, completed in 2005, and the Lee Center for the Arts, dedicated in 2006, have come online to join a host of new academic programs and endowed professorships and chairs. The university's intellectual life will be further enhanced when the $55 million Lemieux Library renovation and McGoldrick Learning Commons expansion is completed in fall 2010.

Seattle University faculty and students continue to prove themselves as leaders on the national stage. The university has been named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars by the Chronicle of Higher Education. SU students have been particularly successful in securing Truman Scholarships, which are awarded to young people aspiring to careers in public service. In 2006, the university was one of only four schools to receive a Truman Foundation Honor Institution award.

The university's rising prestige as an academic institution can be largely attributed to its strong leaders. In 2008, after serving two decades in a variety of leadership positions, John Eshelman stepped down as provost to return to teaching. A bulwark for academic excellence, Eshelman passed the baton to an established scholar and academic leader in Isiaah Crawford. Having previously served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University Chicago, Crawford has brought to SU a commitment to providing a rich educational experience that he describes as "deep learning."


A new era dawned in the spring of 2003 when the Board of Trustees approved a rearticulated mission statement for Seattle University. The crux of the statement, which President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., wrote following an extensive consultation with the campus community, reads: "Seattle University is dedicated to educating the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world."

SU students, faculty and staff and alumni have responded with aplomb in bringing the mission to life. The university's service learning and volunteer activities have been bolstered, in large part due to the creation of the Center for Service and Community Engagement. Three out of four students serve the community through volunteer activities, internships and professional development.

In 2005, Seattle University became the first university in the nation to host a homeless encampment, Tent City 3. That same year, SU made the United States Peace Corps' "Top 25" list of American colleges and universities with the highest number of alumni serving around the world.

Seattle University affirmed its mission in 2008 when it hosted the Opus Prize, a ceremony honoring three faith-based humanitarians, a $1 million winner (Marguerite Barankitse of Burundi) and two $100,000 finalists (Krishnammal Jagannathan of India and Michael Woodard of Nicaragua).

The mission has become so much a part of life at SU that when Charles Currie, S.J., president of the association of the 28 Jesuit universities and colleges in the United States, visited SU in 2009, he remarked that no university equals Seattle University in terms of getting its Jesuit mission together from all angles.

"You find our mission at the entrance of every building," Fr. Sundborg says. "All of us know it; for all of us it is our guide and our pride."


On May 10, 2007, SU's Board of Trustees voted unanimously to return the university to Division I athletics. The move, which brings SU back to the division in which it thrived for decades, will be fully completed for the 2012-2013 season.

Since the university decided to leave Division I in 1980, SU has enjoyed success at various levels of competition. In 2004, the men's soccer team capped off an undefeated season by winning the Division II national championship, just seven years after the team's first national championship, which came at the NAIA level.

Other recent successes have included the men's basketball team advancing to the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament (2007); the softball team making it to the regional final (2008); and both soccer teams getting into the Elite Eight of the NCAA II tournamentŃthe women in 2004, and the men in 2006. In the pool, Chris Coley became the first SU swimmer to win an individual national championship when he won the 100-meter butterfly in 2006, and Jakub Jiracek won the D-II national title in the 200-meter breast stroke in 2008.


Long known for eco-friendly practices, Seattle University is always stepping up its commitment to sustainability. Since 2004, the university has a received a number of awards and recognitions for its leadership in energy efficiency, organics recycling, resource conservation, landscape practices and composting. In 2006, SU became the first and largest institutional customer in Seattle City Light's Green Up program when it committed to having 15 percent of its annual energy consumption come from renewable sources.

SU annually recycles 145 tons of mixed paper and 600 tons of mixed bottles and cans, and composts 27 tons of chipped tree trimmings and 50,000 pounds of food scraps. The university has saved more than 2,600,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity through the years by replacing inefficient equipment.

For Seattle University, sustainability is a logical extension of its Jesuit-Catholic mission. "We are now looking at expanding our focus on educating leaders for a just and humane world to include improving the quality of life on the planet," said Tim Leary, executive vice president, in 2008.


President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., has made global education a leading priority for Seattle University, and students and faculty are truly making the world their classroom, literally and otherwise. The independent non-profit Institute of International Education has recognized SU's Education Abroad program as a national leader in terms of the number of students who study in other countries.

SU students have plenty of other opportunities to learn and live abroad. Students work with non-government organizations throughout the world by participating in the International Development Internship Program and the Research for Development Graduate Program. The Office of Campus Ministry runs immersion programs with a strong social justice component in countries like Belize, Ecuador and Mexico. Students in the Calcutta Club spend several months in India working for Mother Teresa's Missionaries for Charity organizations.

Even without leaving American soil, SU students receive a decidedly global education. A number of SU's academic programs prepare students for an increasingly interconnected world. The Global Business EDGE (Education for Global Executives) in the Albers School of Business and Economics brings together various business and non-business courses so that students can apply theory to real business problems. The program won the federal government's "E" Award for excellence in export service in 2008, a prestigious distinction shared by only a handful of universities since it was established by Executive Order of the President in 1961.