Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

130 Years & Counting! Highlights from Alverno's History

Sister Joel Read, Alverno's 6th President
“The best advice I can give [students] is to take risks. Don’t ever think that something can’t be done. It can. Opportunity is everywhere.” 
-Sister Joel Read

Sister Joel Read was named Acting President of Alverno College on July 1, 1968.  Sister Joel served in that capacity from July 1968 to December 1968.  She was named Alverno's sixth president  by the Board of Trustees in November of 1968.  The formal announcement to the faculty and students came on December 13, 1968. She continued to serve as Alverno College President until her retirement on June 30, 2003.

Sister Joel Read’s 35 year presidency was instrumental in bringing national and international recognition to Alverno. She guided the college into the ever changing modern world of education and technology with innovations such as the ability based curriculum and Weekend College. 

Sister Joel’s work to help educate women, along with her strong belief in furthering the rights of women, was rooted in the rich history of the School Sisters of Saint Francis.

On July 1, 1968, with the retirement of Sister Augustine Scheele, the Board of Trustees appointed Sister Joel Read  as Acting President of Alverno College.

Joe Read, Interim President Appointment Announcement

As described in the holiday issue of Alverno Campus News (below), Sister Joel's appointment as Alverno College President became permanent on Friday December 13, 1968 when it was formally announced to the Alverno community.

Alverno Campus News, December 17, 1968 p. 1


Sept. '69 Logo

The "September '69" program came about as a forum for discussion between students, faculty and administration to effect beneficial changes in the Alverno learning process. Ideas that sprang forth from these dialogues eventually became the framework for Alverno's ability-based curriculum. Learn More...


Sister Bernarda Handrup

In 1970, Sr. Bernarda Handrup became Alverno's third Vice President of Academic Affairs/Academic Dean. It was during her tenure that Alverno's Ability-based curriculum was created. She was Academic Dean from 1970 to 1974.


The Alverno College Research Center on Women was established in April 1970 through the work of Sr. Austin Doherty, then Chair of the Psychology Department; Barbara Mulligan, Director of the Continuing Education Division (a precursor to what became Telesis); and Victoria Hinshaw, Political Science Instructor. The RCW began its functioning conceptually as three centers--a resource center on women, a research center about women and an outreach center for women. It is now known as the Research Center for Women and Girls. Other offshoots of the original RCW are the Feminist Education Advisory Committee or FEAG and the Women's and Gender Studies academic program.

For additional information, Visit the RCW Exhibit.

Classic photo of Sister Marian Schreiner in the old RCW
Sr. Marian Schreiner in the Research Center on Women (RCW)


Babysitting Service, (renamed Childcare and now known as the Alverno Early Learning Center,) also began operating in 1970 after a rise in the number of non-traditional aged students.

Sister Solano Granger in the Babysitting Service room
Peeking through the Babysitting Service door in the 1970's, we see Sister Solano Granger with a child on her lap.


The “student teacher” and “student nurse” programs allowed Alverno students to apply theories learned in the classroom to “real-world” work situations. Both educational programs were successful models of applied learning. Why couldn’t this “experiential learning” take place in other areas of academic studies? Couldn’t all students benefit from the practical application and practice of the academic theories they were learning in the classroom? Would these experiential placements aid students in their written and verbal communication skills?

These questions were the impetus for the creation of the Alverno College Off-Campus Experiential Learning program in Fall 1971. Coined OCEL (later to become the Internship Program), Off-Campus Experiential Learning was an important component of the Alverno curriculum evolution that began taking place in the late 1960’s and continued through the next decade.  Learn More...

Karen Gebarski at her intership site, Fall 1972
Karen Gebarski (1973) shown at her journalism internship for Quality Progress Magazine. Her internship began in the fall of 1972, the second semester of Alverno’s new OCEL program. She was among the first 24 Alverno students to participate in the program.


1973 was a momentous year. The introduction of Alverno's Ability-based curriculum (formerly known as Competence-Based Learning or CBL) started a revolution that has continued to this day. The Assessment Center opened in conjunction with the new curriculum.

Visit the exhibit, Unfolding Understandings: A History of the Alverno Learning Process to learn more.

September-October 1973 Alverno Today article on the launch of ability based learning at Alverno
The article above is from the September-October 1973 issue of Alverno Today.



Dean Robert Pitman

Robert Pitman became Alverno's fourth Vice President of Academic Affairs/Academic Dean and the first lay person to hold that title in 1974. It was during his tenure that Weekend College was started in 1977. He continued as Academic Dean until his death in 1978.



Sister Kathleen O'Brien and student

The Business/Management Department was established in 1976. It is now a division in the School of Professional Studies. One of the early faculty members in the School of Business was Sister Kathleen O’Brien. This is a 1981 photo of her with a student.


The Center for Instructional Communication (CIC), now known as the Media Hub, also opened in 1976.
Learn More...

Joyce Lange in the old CIC
Joyce Lange (behind the camera) and students in the early days of the Media Hub (formerly known as the Center for Instructional Communication or CIC.)



Weekend College Press Release from February 1977

Weekend College (later known as Alverno on the Weekend), another pioneering effort by Alverno College, opened its doors in August 1977. It was announced in the February 25, 1977 press release above. The response to Weekend College was phenomenal with close to 350 inquiries within 48 hours of its announcement.

Sister Joel Read at the inaugural opening of Weekend College
Sister Joel Read at the inaugural opening of Weekend College


In May 1977,  the first class that went through Alverno's Ability Based Learning Program, graduated. Learn More... [PDF]



Article about Sister Austin Doherty when she became Academic Dean in 1978
Shortly after the death of Robert Pitman, in August 1978, Sr. Austin Doherty (1927-2015) became Alverno's fifth Vice President of Academic Affairs/Academic Dean. This article appeared on page four of the Winter 1978-79 issue of Alverno Today.


In September 1978, the Alverno Board of Trustees unanimously approved the renaming of the Alverno Auditorium as a memorial to Robert Pitman. The Robert G. Pitman Theatre was officially renamed at a small ceremony on December 16, 1978 following the reopening of Theatre Alverno with a retrospective revue produced by actor and actress friends who worked with Robert Pitman throughout his years in Milwaukee. The one-hour production was written by Dale Gutzman and directed by Ruth Schudson.

Robert G. Pitman Theatre
Robert G. Pitman Theatre


Return to Top of Page


Alverno Institute (now known as the Assessment and Outreach Center), which enables the college to support and share at the national level, the teaching and scholarship of its faculty, was established in 1980.
Learn More...  


U. S. News and World Report distributed a survey in 1983 to 1,308 college presidents of four year programs.  They were asked to name the highest quality undergraduate institutions in the nation.  The findings of that first exclusive national survey were reported in the November 28, 1983 issue of U.S. News and World Report.  Educators selected Alverno College as one of three colleges deserving of special recognition for its innovative and noteworthy academic programs.  More than two decades of U.S. News surveys would continue to find Alverno College rated among the top liberal arts colleges in the mid-west and west.

Sister Joel & Sister Austin viewing an issue of U.S. News and World Report
 Alverno College President Sister Joel Read and Academic Dean Sister Austin Doherty preview the results of the first U.S. News and World Report survey on top colleges.  This photo was taken November 11, 1983 by photographer Frank Miller. 



In the summer of 1984, Dr.J.A. Knubben of Nijenrode, The Netherlands School of Business, came to America in search of "performance-oriented" teaching and assessment methods. His contacts in Boston sent him right to Alverno. From that first meeting, an Alverno-Dutch connection grew. An article was written about that connection in the November 1984 issue of Alverno Today. The headline and photo below were taken from that article.

Alverno-Nijenrode School of Business Connection



Because the Carnegie Corporation's 1986 survey ranked Alverno as having one of the five best-regarded general education programs in the country, the Milwaukee Common Council presented then Alverno President, Sr. Joel Read, with a citation on May 5, 1987. The citation was announced in this April 29, 1987 press release.

Press Release about Carnegie Corporation Ranking of Alverno


In 1987 Alverno celebrated its Centennial with 21 different events held throughout the year. The festivities are listed below on a page from the April/May 1987 Alverno Magazine. The cover from the same issue is also shown.

Alverno Magazine Centennial Cover 1987  

Centennial Events listed in Alverno Magazine 1987


Alverno's 100th Commencement Ceremony was held on December 16, 1989. It was captured in this article from the February 1990 issue of Alverno Today.

Alvernop's 100th Graduation ceremon recognized in February 1990 issue of  "Alverno Today"



In 1992 because of a growing workload, the position of Vice President of Academic Affairs/Academic Dean was split in two. Sister Kathleen O'Brien became Alverno's sixth Academic Dean and Sister Austin Doherty remained as Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Sister Austin Doherty in 1991       Sister Kathleen O'Brien
Sister Austin Doherty and Sister Kathleen O'Brien             



Hesburgh Award announcement from March 1994 Alverno Today

On February 21, 1994 TIAA-CREF presented Alverno College with the prestigious Theodore M. Hesburgh Award in Washington, D.C. It is an award given annually for faculty development to enhance undergraduate teaching. Accepting the award for Alverno and shown in the March 1994 Alverno Today photo above are Academic Dean, Kathleen O'Brien and Philosophy Professor, Tim Riordan. Miami University of Oxford, Ohio, shared the award with Alverno.


Article from the June 1996 issue of Alverbno Magazine about Alverno's MacArthur grant

In 1996, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a grant of $750,000 to Alverno College for its "distinctive approach to liberal arts education." Above is an article that appeared in the June 1996 issue of Alverno Magazine.


First Master of Arts Bulletin cover

Alverno's first Masters Program--a Master of Arts for Teachers/Trainers was offered for the first time in the 1996-1997 school year. Above is the cover for the first College Bulletin for that program.



Alverno broke ground on October 15, 1997 for the construction of the new Teaching, Learning & Technology Center (now known as the Sister Joel Read Center).

Sister Joel Read at the 1997 groundbreaking for the Teaching, Learning & Technology Center
Sister Joel Read directs traffic at the Teaching, Learning & Technology Center groundbreaking ceremony held on October 15, 1997


Teaching, Learning & Technology Center under construction in January 1998
Taken in January 1998, this photo shows the Teaching, Learning & Technology Center (TLTC) under construction. It was completed a year later.



The Teaching, Learning & Technology Center (now known as the Sister Joel Read Center), which includes science, computer, and multimedia labs, and a conference center, opened in January and was dedicated with grand opening festivities on April 17, 1999.

Spring 1999 issue of Alverno Magazine featuring the new Teaching, learning & Technology Center
The cover story in the Spring 1999 issue of Alverno Magazine  was on the opening of the new Teaching, Learning & Technology Center.


Learn more about Alverno's buildings by visiting the Archives exhibit, What's in a Name? The Names and Places of Alverno College. [PDF]



In September 1999, Sr. Austin Doherty left her post as Vice President of Academic Affairs to become the director of Alverno Institute, Sr. Kathleen O'Brien became the new Vice President, and new ground was broken in the appointment of Zohreh Emami, an Economics Professor and Tim Riordan, a Philosophy Professor as Associate Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs.

Zohreh Emami       Tim Riordan
 Zohreh Emami and Tim Riordan                                    



The Alverno Diagnostic Digital Portfolio (DDP), a web-based electronic tool that allowed a student to save and access selected key performances related to her learning as well as internships and volunteer work, was introduced in Fall 1999. Learn More...

The DDP was replaced by LiveText in Fall 2015.


Return to Top of Page



First Alverno Inferno Season Schedule, 2000

This schedule for Alverno Inferno volleyball and basketball appeared in the September 2000 issue of Alverno Today. It was the first athletic schedule for an Alverno team in over 25 years. Athletics was reintroduced in an effort to attract more traditional-aged students.


SSSF Logo   

Also in 2000, the School Sisters of St. Francis, Alverno College's founding order, celebrated its 125th Anniversary.
Learn more about the School Sisters of St. Francis...



 Study Abroad2
In 2002, the International and Intercultural Center opened. 




Sister Joel Read at her retirement

On November 22, 2002, Sr. Joel Read announced her impending retirement. Sr. Joel's many accomplishments were celebrated at a retirement party on May 22, 2003. She officially retired on July 31, 2003.



Sister Kathleen O'Brien was named Interim-President of Alverno College in August 2003. She served the college in that capacity until June 2004. At the time of her appointment, she was the Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Her year as Interim-President was instrumental in paving the way for a smooth transition to Alverno's first lay president, Dr. Mary Meehan.

Sister Kathleen O'Brien, Acting president of Alverno College, 2003-2004
Sister Kathleen O'Brien