Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Differences benefit us all

The name for my column is inspired by my Twitter handle, @dhanno. It seemed particularly fitting since I use social media pretty much daily to engage with students, share what’s happening on campus with parents and alumnae/i and connect with colleagues. For me, it’s a great way to communicate with my communities.

But as most of us know, social media has a dark side. Beyond the trolls and the hatred, it also affects society in ways that are less visible than an angry diatribe but equally dangerous: confirming our biases and reinforcing our convictions. Social media often resembles an echo chamber. Our Facebook and Twitter feeds tend to be filled with people, opinions and experiences very much like our own. It’s junk food, momentarily satisfying, but offering little in the way of intellectual nourishment.

Where technology falters, the college campus can excel. And there’s good reason for Wheaton and other colleges to ensure that students with different experiences and views interact in a variety of settings, beyond the virtual ones. Numerous studies have demonstrated that a diverse student body benefits all students. Developmental psychology suggests a good reason for this. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are particularly receptive to considering new ideas, new social roles and their relationships to each other and the wider world. [Read more...]

Making connections

There’s no great mystery about what makes for the most impactful, life-changing college education. Broad-based research has consistently shown that certain approaches to tåeaching and learning offer students the greatest return: dedicated programs for first-year students; a commitment to diversity and global programs; and opportunities for service learning, internships, research and other forms of experiential learning.

Sound familiar? The Association of American Colleges and Universities calls these ideas high-impact practices, but you probably know them as the Wheaton curriculum. The college has emphasized these approaches to learning for many years. And alumnae/i and students regularly highlight these features, along with the faculty themselves, as being critical to the amazing liberal arts education the college offers.

Admittedly, Wheaton is not the only college in the country that offers these types of programs. Many do some of these things, but very few are able to offer them all. During more than 20 years in higher education, I have never encountered any college that integrates these kinds of programs as seamlessly, thoroughly and effectively as Wheaton. 

The incredible power of what we do at Wheaton begins with the leadership and creativity of faculty and staff. Wheaton didn’t adopt the idea of first-year seminar programs, of internships and experiential learning, or of a global dimension to the curriculum. We were pioneers. We helped prove that these approaches to teaching and learning make a difference in the lives of students. And over the years, we have refined these programs.  [Read more...]

Sparking possibilities

Few things can match the opening of a new academic year. A new class of first-year students, and a new semester, bring the excitement of hundreds of new possibilities. That has never been more true than this year. The Class of 2020 is the largest class in Wheaton’s history—approximately 530 young women and men from 28 states and 36 countries. They are an amazing group.

Class of 2020 on the Dimple

The Class of 2020 is welcomed to Wheaton with 500-plus beach balls during orientation.

Throughout their first week on campus, I took every opportunity to ask our newest students to share what they are interested in studying and what they hope to do with their college degree. The answers cover a wide range of occupations and goals—practicing medicine and the law, changing public policy to promote social justice, living a life in the arts, starting a business, digging into a career of scientific research, traveling the world.

The breadth of incoming students’ interests is striking. What makes this college so special is the answer that we give to all those goals: You can do that at Wheaton. We offer a liberal arts education that is untethered by rigid requirements, unconstrained by arbitrary boundaries separating academic disciplines, and free from restriction on where and how students learn. The result is the kind of wide-open education that is limited only by imagination, energy and intellectual curiosity. Which is to say that it’s unlimited. [Read more...]

Educational value

Ligia Bonetti Du-Breil ’89, honorary degree recipient

Ligia Bonetti Du-Breil ’89, honorary degree recipient

“Success is not a goal on its own.”

Ligia Bonetti Du-Breil’89, who runs a major corporation in the Dominican Republic that is known for its socially responsible practices, made that point while accepting an honorary degree from Wheaton this year.

Her point—that success is an outgrowth of dedicating yourself to work toward some greater purpose, no matter the obstacles—expresses a core value for which our college stands. Indeed, the entire group of alumnae/i who received honorary degrees or alumnae/i achievement awards during Commencement Reunion Weekend exemplify that ideal. They are unquestionably successful—leaders in business and finance, art and education, government administration and community organizing. But in every case, their achievements are inextricably linked with their passions for promoting education, equality and understanding. [Read more...]