Reflecting on 23 Years at Seattle University

A lot can change in one year, let alone 23 years. Stephen Sundborg, S.J. started serving as the president of Seattle University in 1997 and will retire in June 2021 after 24 years of leadership. Presi

a number of photos of President Sundborg during his time at Seattle UniversityA lot can change in one year, let alone 23 years. Stephen Sundborg, S.J. started serving as the president of Seattle University in 1997 and will retire in June 2021 after 24 years of leadership. President Sundborg has facilitated massive transformation of the university, including the physical expansion of campus and the evolution of our community’s mission and identity.

“I wish I had a photo of what Seattle University looked like from the air when I started and what it looks like now. People come now, from 23 years ago when I started and are amazed,” said Sundborg. Since the start of his time at Seattle U, President Sundborg has overseen the construction of 12 different buildings on campus. But, it’s not only physical changes that have been impacted by his influence, President Sundborg helped to focus the university’s efforts by sculpting and shaping our mission.

“We have really lived by and been committed to the mission. It’s the magnet that has kept us doing what we are doing, and the biggest transformation is having that mission and referring back to it.” The university’s commitment to “educating the whole person, to professional formation, and to empower leaders for a just and humane world” can be seen in how the university has embraced service. “Three quarters of the undergraduate students have a course that has a component that is service learning," said Sundborg, "Our education is more connected and applied to our community rather than simply learned in the classroom.”  

One person alone can’t implement all of this change. President Sundborg credits significant investments in the university, strong board leadership and being in the middle of a vibrant city that is on the cutting edge of technology. “We are Seattle University. The innovation of the city propels us forward,” said Sundborg. 

President Sundborg has drawn inspiration from his deep connections within the SU community. “I’ve already begun to miss relationships. I am going to miss students. I am going to miss being part of a team. Underneath the work, there is a love and an affection that grows. I am in this web of relationships with students, friends, administration and alumni. You take for granted that one day you might not be in that web anymore. I’ve already begun to feel it.”

As he reflects on the last two decades, President Sundborg can’t help but also be excited for Seattle University’s future. “I don’t know another university that has the potential of development that Seattle U has. To be the Jesuit, independent, private university, centered at the very heart of Seattle has an upside potential that is extraordinary.” According to President Sundborg, the core of Seattle U’s potential rests in the evolving education landscape coupled with the integration of new technology to help students prepare for the future. He goes on to state that fostering deeper and broader connections with Seattle and bringing relevant issues and content to students on campus will be pivotal in shaping the next chapter of Seattle U’s history.

So, what’s next for Fr. Steve? He’s looking forward to getting back to being a Jesuit Catholic priest in a more personal and pastoral manner. “I am 77 years old. Rather than Father Steve, I am Grandfather Steve to most undergraduates. There comes a time when you need to be recharged and find a non-administrative way of being a Jesuit Catholic priest.”

There will be many opportunities to hear from and engage with President Sundborg over the course of the school year. Most immediately, be on the look out for an invitation to the President's open forum on Thursday, September 24.

The Seattle University Alumni Association

September 2, 2020