Office of the President

Welcome to Alverno

I want to take a moment to introduce myself to you, and to thank you for your interest in Alverno College. Whether you are a parent assisting your daughter with her college search, an adult learner, a transfer student, educator or friend of the college, enjoy your journey through our website. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to call us at 414-382-6100, toll free at 800-933-3401 or e-mail Admissions.

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Archives
March 2015

The “happiest college president in America”

Dear Friends,

Today I shared with the Alverno community my decision to step down as president of the College at the end of next academic year, June 30, 2016.

These past 11 years as Alverno College president have been such a blessing to me and I know the year to come will be the same. Alverno is a dynamic learning community. Every day I am so inspired by the truly transformative work happening in our halls. And wherever I go in the community, I am so proud when I hear of the good work being done by our remarkable Alverno alums.

We have celebrated many successes in the past decade and risen as a team to many challenges. I am deeply grateful for the incredible dedication of each and every member of the Alverno Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumnae and supporters. Alverno’s successes have been the collaborative efforts of thousands of you who every day show an unwavering commitment to our mission of building strong women.

I have often been introduced on campus as the “happiest college president in America.” Those words remain as true today as the first time I stepped into this role so many years ago. And they remain so because of you, and your commitment to the vision of our founders, the School Sisters of St Francis. Our sisters had no idea where Alverno would be today, nearly 128 years after our doors were opened to serve women.

I don’t know what Alverno will look like in another century, but I do know that because of you, it will be strong, vibrant and
enriching lives.

Our Board of Trustees have already begun the long search process for your next president. They are firmly committed to
opportunities for the campus community to participate in the process to ensure the best person to carry forward our important mission.

Blessings to all of you and to our Alverno,

 

Sincerely,

Signed Mary Meehan
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.

Archives
February 2015

Have ten years really passed?

Memories of my inauguration in October 2004 seem far too vivid to have happened that long ago. I recall it as one of the proudest days of my professional life. As Alverno’s seventh president and first lay president, I celebrated the start of my work surrounded by Alverno trustees, faculty, staff and alums. Awaiting us was an ambitious agenda set by the College’s leaders: expand graduate programs, grow enrollment, add new facilities and more. I was so excited to get started! Now, two strategic plans later, I’m still exhilarated to lead this College that does so much so well.

This month we are celebrating one of the most satisfying accomplishments during my time here: the completion of the Promise & Power campaign. The $30 million fund drive is reinventing Alverno’s campus. If you haven’t visited lately, you should. You will love the transformation that is underway.

But as I reflect on my first 10 years, I realize the spirit that moves us is far more important than the milestones we pass. What matters most, I believe, is our heart. What principles bring us together? What values shape our actions every day? Are they strong enough to sustain the hopes and beliefs that will serve as both compass and sail for the journey ahead?

As I have contemplated this, I have come to realize the importance of three traits that have defined and guided our College from its beginning. Today they are more important than ever:

1. We believe in women and the difference they can make.
We often speak of women and leadership in the future tense—as in someday there will be more women leaders. Truer words were never spoken, but women have always played important, if sometimes unnoticed, roles in communities that thrive. Solomon Juneau gets credit for starting Milwaukee, for instance, but it was Josette Juneau who organized support for its first school, established its first health care resources, recruited more churches and brought together the first “new-waukeeans” for social activities and mutual support. In education, health care, science and even the arts, women have always played leading roles.

Now business, government and other fields are also recognizing that talent trumps gender. Like many women’s colleges, Alverno excels at helping women develop their considerable talents and the abilities to use them in every profession. We’ve been doing this for more than a century, and it remains a bright beacon that constantly guides us. Our dedication to this purpose focuses the College and lifts our efforts every day.

2. Our students are the most important people in the world.
I first learned about Alverno when I studied its curricular innovations in my doctoral program at Seton Hall University. I marveled at how educators at Alverno found a way to help students acquire the wisdom of their disciplines while simultaneously mastering eight abilities to apply that knowledge effectively. Hundreds of higher educational institutions here and abroad today emulate the curricular approaches created here.

The invention and refinement of this curriculum is perhaps the best measure of how devoted our faculty and staff are to students and their development. On average, our students work three times more than the average American college student. They overcome these odds in large part because our faculty and staff are that good at helping them recognize their talents and commit to the hard work of developing them.

Our faculty and staff focus on our students’ enormous potential. The results show in our graduates’ accomplishments. Their careers in health care, education, business, science and other areas distinguish them in the community. When a group of 75 alums organized the Alverno Vanguard Society two years ago, we found their numbers included 70 advanced degrees, three Fulbright scholars, 14 CEOs and senior execs, several humanitarian, nurse, educator and civic volunteers of the year, and 13 college deans and department heads.

3. We are who we are because we are a Catholic higher education institution.
The tenets that guide all great U.S. Catholic educational institutions guide Alverno daily. We are called as a Catholic institution to offer the great opportunity of higher education to those who need it most, to engage our students with the community and help them understand how important it is to serve it well, to respect the beliefs of others, and to teach that belief is expressed in loving action.

But most of all, as a Catholic College we understand our students already are God’s daughters. That, after all, is their birthright. Our job is the absolutely essential work of helping them fulfill that gift by living it.

There will always be challenges. We must—as we teach our students—analyze these problems carefully before we respond. But our actions must be shaped more by our principles and values than by circumstance. These truths have gotten us this far. I am confident they will lead you, me and the entire Alverno community to new accomplishments and achievements in the years ahead.

Thank you for letting me share these values with you, and I truly look forward to putting these principles to work with you in the years ahead.

Sincerely,

Signed Mary Meehan
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.

Archives
November 2014

Little Did I Know Then…

When I was finishing my doctoral studies at Seton Hall University, I was introduced to the innovative teaching and assessment methods at a small liberal arts college in Milwaukee. That college is Alverno, which is internationally renowned for its cutting-edge approach to education. Little did I know then that I would one day serve as Alverno’s seventh president. I am honored to be here. I pledge to preserve and strengthen the legacy of our founders, the School Sisters of St. Francis. That legacy is one of providing excellence in teaching, delivered in a faith-based environment where innovation, diversity, and respect for the individual are evidenced in the curriculum, as well as in the daily life of our campus community.

Thousands of educators from all over the world have visited Alverno to study our teaching methods, including the eight core abilities that every student must master in order to graduate. What students learn at Alverno prepares them for life. If you take a look at the 2010 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges guide, you’ll see that Alverno has ranked in several categories including a special section titled, “Programs to Look For,” which ranks schools with outstanding examples of academic programs that lead to student success.

On behalf of Alverno students, alumnae, faculty, staff and the board of trustees of one of the nation’s finest women’s colleges, I encourage you to learn more about us by visiting and touring our campus. We look forward to meeting you.

Cordially,

Signed Mary Meehan
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.

Archives
August 2014

“Get a job.”

Among my generation, most of us received that advice after we finished college, as in “Congratulations on your degree; now it’s time to get a job.” We knew degrees connected us to careers, but most of us did not start thinking seriously about life after college until college was nearly over.

That’s changed. Today the advice many college students hear starting in their first year is, “Get an internship,” as in, “Get an internship so you’ll have a chance at a good job after college.” Career preparation and college are so closely linked today that many now view college exclusively as career preparation. Most students have heard the advice “Don’t major in the Liberal Arts, you’ll never get a job” at least once. (Not true, by the way. Our philosophy, history, English and religious studies majors do quite well in the jobs marketplace.) Our students also know, by virtue of constant repetition, college degrees are the surest path to personal prosperity. And they take comfort in the flurry of regional economic plans by M7, the City of Milwaukee and others stressing the connections between colleges and the region’s future. The brighter tomorrows they envision rely heavily on development of home-grown talent today. Colleges, it seems, have become as necessary as capital in building our region’s economic strength.

Is this emphasis on careers, professional preparation and employability good for students? For the most part, yes. We certainly help our students consider all their strengths and options, and occasionally we gently guide them toward more realistic assessments of their employment options. But most students today, like their future employers, expect college not just to prepare them for careers but also to give them a strong start on individual career paths.

As a result, a college’s career connections and job placement rates matter more now than ever. We do well in both areas. During the past few years, surveys found 90 percent or more of Alverno graduates land jobs within six months of graduation. That compares to a national placement rate average of 55-60 percent annually.

Our Internship program is the most visible part of our robust career education infrastructure. Started in 1971 by Sister Celestine Schall, it was one of the nation’s first college-wide internship programs. Last year, 66 percent of U.S. college students completed some sort of internship, up 6 percent from the year before. I am proud to say since the early 1980s, every Alverno student has completed one or more internships by the time she graduates.

Who are these interns, and where are they interning? Each year, hundreds of Alverno’s future nurses, teachers and music and art therapists participate in clinical internships and practice-teaching experiences required by their respective accrediting bodies. Hundreds more students—majoring in business, the sciences, community leadership, psychology, English and other humanities—also test their emerging abilities in businesses and nonprofits large and small.

Whether they are exploring future careers or simply sampling the professional work world, our evaluations show a good internship gives students three advantages:

Building career connections: While some students advance from their internships to full-time jobs, most use the experience as a stepping-stone to wider opportunities, often with the help of their internship sponsors. Northwestern Mutual and Johnson Controls, for example, offer regular networking sessions for interns to help them connect with other departments in the company. Many internship mentors also invite interns along to professional events and business gatherings so students can get to know others in their field.

Building career confidence: I remember my first professional job, working in a mental health program in New Jersey. (I was one of the lucky ones who went from my internship to a full-time position in the same organization.) My supervisor encouraged my fellow fledgling social workers and me to think outside the box and find new ways to help our clients. I proposed an independent living facility for a group of patients capable, with a little help, of holding down jobs and taking care of themselves. As that program started and showed increasing signs of success, I think the biggest change it made was in me. “I can do this,” I thought. “This is where I belong.”

That confidence is one of the biggest blessings of internships for Alverno students. Elizabeth O’Hara, a senior majoring in Community Leadership Development, just completed a challenging summer internship with Catholic Charities in Washington D.C., working with refugee resettlement. After a summer of hard work and stellar evaluations, her words echoed my thoughts from years ago. “I can do this,” she reported. “And I can be good at it.”

Using Alverno abilities outside the classroom: Often, students are amazed to discover the abilities they practice so rigorously at Alverno—especially problem solving, communication, social interaction, and analysis—are required daily in their internships. Tyler Ward, an Alverno mathematics major, drew heavily on her knowledge of mathematics during her internship with JDA Software Group in Racine. But the daily impact of her communication, social interaction and problem-solving abilities made an equally strong impression on her.

Every professional has an obligation to open doors for the generation that follows. If you believe what you do is important, it is important to pass along your insights. You can help build the future by providing an Alverno student with an outstanding internship experience. Contact our Internship Office, led by Susan Leister (susan.leister@alverno.edu; 414-382-6019), to find out how.

Sincerely,

Signed Mary Meehan
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.
President

Archives
June 2014

June 2014

Ask any of the more than 500 Alverno students who completed studies here last year, and they will tell you most simply: they could not have done it without financial aid.

Since the inauguration of the first GI Bill of Rights (signed into law 70 years ago), federal financial aid programs have helped millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Alverno students pursue their higher educational dreams and build stronger lives for themselves and their families. Assistance was based on individual need and/or accomplishments. Today, Pell Grants and student loans continue the long-held belief that need and accomplishment alone are the criteria for programs that help make higher education accessible.

But a new college rating system has been proposed by the U.S. Department of Education. The system will use three measures to rate every accredited college in the nation: cost, accessibility and graduate success factors such as average graduate salaries and the percentage of alums who go on to graduate school. As presently proposed, these ratings would be used to alter distribution of federal financial aid, with students at higher rated schools receiving more aid and those at lower rated schools receiving less.

To be fair, the status of the new rating system is uncertain. The department will begin collecting ratings data next year, but they do not plan to use the ratings to adjust financial aid awards until 2018. It is also worth noting that the federal government has not proposed a college rating system since 1909, more than a century ago. At that time, strong opposition moved then President Taft to halt its implementation due to the difficulties of rating colleges fairly.

Today, I think it is every bit as difficult to compare colleges fairly. This new “one-size-fits-all” approach to rating colleges puts our students at a disadvantage in their access to financial aid. I want to share my questions about it, and am interested in hearing yours, too.

Are salaries an effective way to measure student success?

The current proposal would rate a college’s success partially on student success factors such as the salaries of its graduates and the number who go on to graduate school. Roughly, each year a third of Alverno’s graduates enter nursing and teaching fields where women make up approximately 75% and 90% of the work force, respectively. Most would agree the women entering these fields are essential contributors to the future of our country and the health of its aging population. Yet salaries for these fields lag far behind those in engineering, technology, investments and similar areas. I am not saying any one field is more important but, as it stands now, this proposal does.

The new system would also compare student success by career area. However, regional salary disparities would likely shift aid from students in states like Wisconsin, to east and west coast states where salaries are higher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses in California earn on average about 40 percent more than nurses in Wisconsin. The emphasis on graduate school entries has the same effect.
More and more Alverno students pursue graduate degrees, but they are likely to take an academic breather and work awhile before entering master’s programs in business, education, nursing and other fields.

Overall, more than 90 percent of Alverno students land jobs within six months of graduation. Nationally, only about 55% of college graduates can make the same claim. Alverno’s high success rate would mean nothing if the average starting salaries earned by 50-60% of another school’s graduates were substantially higher than the average salaries of the 90% or more students who are working within six months of graduating from Alverno.

Does the proposal reduce emphasis on individual financial need and accomplishment?

Every year at commencement exercises, I am the first to congratulate each graduate after she receives her diploma. Each degree is a success story all its own, and a tribute to sometimes amazing persistence and intellectual accomplishment.

And these diplomas don’t come easy. Courtney Lord ‘14, an honors education graduate, estimated she had to successfully complete at least one and sometimes two assessments per week to earn her degree. In addition to the 100 or more “typical” classroom assessments such as papers, presentations and lit reviews, she also completed 12 major evaluations of her emerging teaching abilities, 11 evaluations of her performance in practice teaching, and the Praxis I and II exams that test future teachers’ command of the subject matter. As Courtney said, “I earned this degree, and I’ve got the assessments to prove it.”

Admittedly, Alverno’s emphasis on mastery of both course content and the eight abilities required for graduation makes our assessments more individualized than most colleges. But no reputable American college gives students degrees because their classmates did well. Students should not receive more financial aid for that reason, either.

Could the proposal evolve into something better?

I hope so. At Alverno, we understand how important it is to measure attainment of goals. I am just not in agreement that this proposed new rating system measures the right things. If you would like to talk more about this, I hope you will reach out to me. If you would like to impact change in this proposal, I hope you will reach out to your legislators. Together we can keep working to ensure high-quality educational opportunities are accessible to everyone.

Sincerely,

Signed Mary Meehan
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.
President

Archives
October 2013

September always seems to bring good “U.S. News” to Alverno.

The latest U.S. News & World Report College Ratings issue, published last month, again ranks Alverno among the three best undergraduate experiences available at Midwestern regional universities. This category includes 158 institutions in 12 states stretching from Nebraska to Ohio, and the ratings are based solely on a survey of leaders at these schools. I want to thank you and all the College’s friends whose support helps make possible the wonderful teaching that earns these accolades.

Still, I worry that the phrase “outstanding undergraduate experience” evokes only the haziest of images of what we have accomplished. If I tell you our basketball team cracked the top three in the latest poll or our new golf team took third at a weekend tournament, you could picture it easily and celebrate the achievement as part of the Alverno family.

But what exactly is an outstanding undergraduate experience? And why has Alverno earned such high rankings four years in a row—and 31 times in similar rankings since the start of U.S. News’ annual college ratings in 1983?

To answer those questions, let me tell the tales of two amazing students. Sarah and Carla arrived at Alverno two years ago from opposite sides of the academic tracks. Yet both have excelled here, and they expect to be studying medicine within two years. I learned their stories recently and happily pass them along because I think they show what makes the Alverno undergraduate experience so extraordinary.

Let me first tell you about Sarah, a 31-year-old molecular biology junior whose academic path has had more stops, starts and delays than a rush-hour freeway. She grew up in Green Bay and dropped out of high school after junior year. She told no one, but at the time she made a secret, solemn promise to herself that she would somehow graduate from college and become a nurse someday. After two technical colleges, a move to Milwaukee and a semester feeling out of place at a big state university, she heard of Alverno and enrolled here.

Sarah describes her Alverno academic career as a series of light bulbs going on. Light bulb one: She discovered a fascination with science and learned that, with work and help from her instructors, she could excel in it. Light bulb two: A doctor at her St. Joseph Hospital workplace pulled her aside and urged her to consider medical school because she was smart and had a wonderful way with patients. Light bulb three: She realized she no longer needed to pursue her quest alone. Her Alverno professors supported her dream and would push her just as hard as she pushed herself.

Sarah is now taking advanced science courses and studying for her MCAT exams (the standardized entrance exam for North American medical schools). She has developed a database of 150 medical schools that offer strong primary care programs and is winnowing through it in search of the next step in a career she says would not be possible without Alverno’s help.

Now meet Carla, a 21-year-old management accounting senior who has never met an academic pinnacle she couldn’t climb. She was valedictorian of her high school class, had ACT scores that put her in the top 10 percent of the nation and was recruited by Harvard, Stanford and other top colleges in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings. She chose Alverno because it kept her close to her family and focused on developing abilities in a way no other college offered.

Until her internship with a Big Four accounting firm, Carla was sure she wanted to enter the business world. She imagined herself someday CEO of a business with strong international ties. But a semester spent traveling throughout the Midwest on audit teams gave her time to reflect. She thought about all the things she was learning at Alverno and how they were reshaping her. She loved science, working with people and helping others. Was there a better way for her to make a difference in this world, she wondered.

She conferred with her parents, Mexican immigrants who had arrived in America three decades earlier with little money in their pockets and big dreams for their two daughters, the oldest of whom is a recent Alverno alum. What would they think if she changed directions and headed for medical school? No strangers to risk-taking themselves, they heartily approved. Carla is now mulling an extensive list of 60 medical schools with M.D./M.B.A programs, absolutely sure her Alverno education has prepared her for any of them.

Sarah and Carla’s journeys could not be more different. But when asked what made Alverno’s teaching extraordinary, both single out the same three qualities.

  • The constant emphasis on applying your knowledge: Both say using the eight abilities to apply course subject matter lifts learning to a new level and requires deeper understanding.
  • Individualized expectations: Both students credit Alverno’s constant emphasis on self-assessment for helping them recognize their talents and commit themselves to new directions.
  • Extraordinary teachers: Asked to name professors who have given their lives more meaning and improved their understanding of themselves, both rattle off lists of professors in the humanities, the arts and the social sciences in addition to those in their majors.

What makes an undergraduate education extraordinary? The extraordinary learning journeys it launches. There are thousands more like Sarah and Carla at Alverno, each capable of her own greatness. I cannot thank you enough for helping make their amazing quests possible.

Sincerely,

Signed Mary Meehan
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.
President

Archives
May 2013

May 2013

Are there any fresh perspectives to consider in the seemingly unending debate on school reform?

I think so, but I can imagine a collective shudder among many Alverno friends and supporters as I bring up the topic. As a community and nation we have discussed school reform so much and for so long that “reform fatigue” sometimes seems to be setting in.

Those who have followed this discussion closely know that the past two years have brought more school changes than any similar period in recent memory. New curricular standards and more rigorous proficiency tests are reorganizing teaching everywhere. A long, impassioned debate on the benefits of choice, charter and public schools continues with successful and not so successful examples offered all around. And in perhaps the biggest change, we have triggered a tidal wave of retirements among teachers, principals and curriculum specialists with new laws governing unions and benefits.

The fresh perspective I have to offer comes from the future teachers who will be filling the many vacancies looming ahead. These literally are the teachers of tomorrow, and our educational future is now very much in their hands. They are eager to get to work, and their vantage points on improving schools includes more than a few surprises.

Alverno currently enrolls more than 200 undergraduate and graduate students who are teachers in the making. Speaking on their behalf, meet Courtney Lord, a junior preparing to teach high school English. Her views, in most ways, are typical of her teacher-to-be classmates.

Courtney excelled in a suburban high school (due to a high number of Advanced Placement courses, her grade point average was 4.3 on a four-point scale), and she has wanted to be a teacher as long as she can remember. Like many Alverno future educators, there is more than a little altruism in her ambitions. She looks upon teaching as a way she can change lives for the better, and she has learned through her courses and field placement experiences that she can make a difference in a classroom. She also is bilingual—she will spend two months this summer teaching in Ecuador—and thus she believes she may be most helpful in a school serving Hispanic students.

What do she and her classmates have to add to the educational debate? A lot. They recognize the importance of high standards and good governance, but their overriding belief is that real school reform depends on developing strong learning cultures and effective instructional leadership inside schools. Consider Courtney’s views on the issues we hear about over and over in the debate on school reform.

The most important ingredient for school success: Courtney likes the new curricular standards and more rigorous proficiency testing adapted during the past two years. But like nearly all Alverno education students, she puts a supportive school culture at the top of the list of effective educational strategies. “All schools have high goals. What sets the effective schools apart are a team commitment to effective educational practices,” she said. During field placements required for her education degree she briefly experienced a school where too many teachers didn’t believe students can achieve high standards. As she put it, “When you aren’t committed, kids know you don’t believe in them.” She looks for schools where teachers believe in the learning potential of every child and work together to make it happen.

The best educational governance: Like many other education students, Courtney doesn’t think of her future job as a choice, charter or public school option. Through her field placements she knows that students and parents are often only vaguely aware of governance differences. They move around a lot more than most people realize, she noted. The best “educational governance” in her opinion is a principal who consistently supports and guides teachers, especially newcomers. Personally, she would welcome the opportunity to teach in an MPS school. “But principals and colleagues will affect my job choices and teaching success far more than governance,” she adds.

Public attitudes toward teaching and teachers: Courtney hopes that the general public will someday understand—and appreciate—the time commitment teachers make. In her four field placements thus far (Alverno education students must complete a total of five field placements), Courtney says long hours on evenings and weekends have been the rule. Like many other future high school teachers, she expects to attend extra-curricular activities on weekends and anticipates extra hours assessing student work and developing work plans. “I work four jobs to help finance my education, and I’ve signed up for 23 credits next semester. I think I understand what hard work is,” Courtney concluded. “I expect to work every bit as hard as a teacher, and my classmates feel pretty much the same way.”

On poverty’s challenges to education: Courtney and her classmates have seen first-hand how poverty and low parental involvement frustrate teaching and learning, but she confidently insists that such harsh conditions are precisely why good teachers and strong school cultures are so important. “We mean it and believe it when we say every kid can succeed,” she notes. In her field placement at Carmen High School, she saw how effective teaching practice and a strong culture can engage hundreds of students from low-income backgrounds and help them excel.

The school reforms that matter most are those that happen in the classroom, and we all are relying on Courtney and her colleagues to make the new standards and new rules work for students. I think their perspectives are an important part of the ongoing education debate. And I believe we owe them not just respect, but profound admiration and gratitude for the work they are taking on.

On behalf of all of them, thank you for your continued support of Alverno. As Courtney and her colleagues show, it’s a show of faith that will pay off for many generations to come.

Sincerely,

Signed Mary Meehan
Mary Meehan, Ph.D.
President

Out & About with Mary

Tempo Mentorship Award

I feel incredibly honored to have been recognized with Tempo’s Mentorship Award. What made the evening even more satisfying was seeing 2 of the 3 scholarships awarded to Alverno students thanks to generous supporters like Robert W. Baird .

Unwavering commitment to our students

One of the many reasons I feel fortunate to be at Alverno is to see the passion and energy that our faculty bring to the development of our students every day. We asked our faculty why they chose Alverno and their answers might help you understand what makes them so special. Click here to hear from them.

Continuous Improvement at Alverno

With the new student spaces now complete, I was given the chance to take a sledgehammer to our old office wall as construction begins on our new space.

Serving our Students – Literally.

My Admin Council colleagues and I had the chance to serve our students earlier this semester- a welcome break for all of us.

Convocation

The feeling of welcoming the next generation of Alverno students never loses its sense of excitement. More than ever, the world needs more Alverno women!

Alverno Captures the Cup!

I was proud to join the team as Alverno captured the Red Rivalry Cup in the inaugural Red Rivalry Game versus its crosstown foe MSOE on January 22, 2011, with a 63-56 victory in Reiman Gymnasium.
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