“It’s been an amazing experience so far. I’ve learned so much, not only academically but also about myself and how to make personal choices,” the sophomore said. “After I took Professor Wilson’s international politics course, I realized that my work must be related to international affairs.”
Feng’s discovery of her intellectual interest reflects the type of journey that Wheaton seeks to offer every student. Indeed, the college’s goal of providing a transformative education serves as the starting point for Go Beyond: Campaign for Wheaton, an effort to bolster the institution’s ability to change lives through education.
Wheaton Board of Trustees vice chair Nancy Pearlstine Conger ’67 says that “educating citizens of the world is the best way to fight poverty, disease, environmental destruction and terrorism.” Conger, who agreed to serve as co-lead of the campaign steering committee, adds: “Go Beyond: Campaign for Wheaton addresses the need to educate global society. My support helps to make a difference.”
The initiative is already making a difference. “The good news is that we are off to an excellent start,” President Ronald Crutcher announced at the 2010 Homecoming and Family Weekend celebration, which marked the public launch of the effort. “I had expected to announce that we have raised $80 million, but thanks to gifts the college has received in the last 24 hours, I am pleased to say that we have $81.7 million committed to Wheaton’s programs and facilities.”
The new Mars Center for Science and Technology represents the most concrete evidence of the impact that Go Beyond: Campaign for Wheaton is already having on the college. The $42 million building project, the largest in the institution’s history, will be built with $30 million in gifts as well as a $5 million endowment to fund the building’s operations.
Supporters of the college have also contributed more than $17 million through the Wheaton Fund, to sustain the college’s ongoing programs, from subscription fees for the library’s digital resources to supplies for studio art and science classes. Gifts to the Wheaton Fund support student scholarships, which are also a priority for the college.
Wheaton Trustee Debra Kent Glidden ’68 established the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Murphy Endowed Scholarship during the college’s last campaign, which ended in 2000. She says the college’s emphasis on expanding scholarship support through Go Beyond is critical. “Especially in this recession, endowed scholarships are critical to helping students and their families afford the first-rate liberal arts education that Wheaton offers.”
Anthony Castellani ’13 testifies to the importance of scholarship support. “I’m receiving a Balfour Scholarship, which is a merit-based award. If it weren’t for the scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to attend Wheaton.” The Pittsfield, Mass., native says he is glad that the support put the college within his reach, not only because of his classes but also because of the research experience he has gained by working with psychology professor Jason Reiss.
Castellani landed the position as a lab assistant when a computer science professor suggested that the first-year student speak with Reiss, who needed a student with computer programming skills and an interest in studying human perception to join his lab team. The professor’s research explores the connection between attention and perception. After spending several months attending weekly lab discussions, Reiss invited Castellani to spend the summer installing and programming new software to control experiments with human subjects.
“Professor Reiss is a very good teacher, but at the same time, he expects a lot. He’ll give me something to work on in the lab and say, ‘Just get as far as you can.’ It keeps me on my toes, but that’s a good thing, because we have gotten a lot of work done.
“When I started working with Professor Reiss, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d never worked in a lab setting before, but I’ve learned a lot,” Castellani said. “It’s been a very valuable experience, especially if I do decide to go into the neuroscience field.”
Such stories delight but don’t surprise Thomas Hollister, who serves as chair of the board. “The profound and personal commitment of the faculty to teaching students is what is so special about Wheaton. It manifests itself in visible ways, such as the Rhodes, Watson and Truman scholarships that many students have won. But more importantly, something irreplaceable happens to many Wheaton students during their four years: their worlds are expanded and they become lifelong learners.”
Frances Feng would agree. At the end of her first year at Wheaton, the international student took part in a three-week service learning course to Tanzania that was led by Professor of Anthropology Donna Kerner. Teaching English to Tanzanian schoolchildren inspired Feng to see a way in which she might work toward a better world: by promoting education in developing nations.
“Going to Tanzania was amazing,” she said. “Africa had been my dream forever. I have really wanted to go ever since I was a little girl. And teaching in Tanzania helped me realize my passion for education and development. Everyone deserves a good education.”
The experience also heightened her appreciation for Wheaton, she told the alumnae/i who gathered to celebrate the launch of Go Beyond, adding, “Thank you for making my dreams come true.”