$10M gift will transform college program

Foundation gift to expand social entrepreneurship

Wheaton College has received a $10 million commitment from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation that will strengthen the institution’s position as a leader among liberal arts colleges in integrating social entrepreneurship education into the study of the liberal arts and sciences.

The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation pledge establishes an endowed professorship in social entrepreneurship, provides funds for entrepreneurial education programming and launches a fundraising challenge that will support the construction of dedicated space for bringing Wheaton’s existing programs in social innovation into a single space with complementary programs.

The commitment, one of the largest philanthropic gifts in the college’s 183-year history, will make Wheaton one of a few liberal arts colleges nationwide, and the first in the Northeast, to establish an endowed professorship in social entrepreneurship.

“This is a transformational gift for Wheaton College as a whole and it is a game-changer for our programs in social entrepreneurship and innovation,” said President Dennis M. Hanno. “We are committed to being the leading liberal arts college in preparing students to create innovative solutions to big challenges. This commitment will help us to support them in putting those ideas into action while they are students.

“I am extremely grateful to Diana Davis Spencer, to the foundation and her family for their commitment to the idea that social entrepreneurship has the power to transform lives and shape communities,” Hanno said. “We share that belief and the Foundation’s gift will enable Wheaton to more fully develop our capacity to support students in pursuing interests that address society’s most pressing issues.”

Diana Davis Spencer, the president of the foundation and a visionary philanthropist, is a 1960 graduate of Wheaton College and a trustee emerita of the college. Through her work and her family foundation, Davis Spencer has promoted education, entrepreneurship and international peace and understanding.

The foundation and the Davis Spencer family have been generous supporters of education for many years. Earlier gifts from the family and its foundation provided critical support to launch Wheaton’s Center for Global Education, support international relations and Russian studies programs and provides scholarships to undergraduates.

“The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation is excited that Wheaton is leading the way in innovation and social entrepreneurship,” said Diana Davis Spencer in commenting on the awarding of the grant to the college.

Rooted in experiential learning

Wheaton’s commitment to social entrepreneurship builds upon the college’s pioneering work in combining rigorous liberal arts study with active and experiential learning opportunities. The college was an early leader in incorporating internships into the liberal arts curriculum, having established what was then known as the Filene Center for Work and Learning in 1986. Today, the center’s successor, the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services, plays a leading role in coordinating the Wheaton Edge, a program that includes guaranteed funding for an internship for every student before the senior year.

The new initiative to develop a comprehensive program in social entrepreneurship expands on Wheaton’s experiential learning programs by offering students another option—beyond internships, work, community service and undergraduate research—to apply the skills and knowledge developed in the classroom in real-world settings.

“The liberal arts offers a uniquely powerful set of skills and the broad perspective for generating innovative solutions to the challenges that we face,” said President Hanno, who has significant expertise in innovation as the founder and head of the nonprofit IDEA For Africa. “Over the years, Wheaton alumni have launched many incredible organizations that are improving the world. Our goal as an institution is to build on our history of making a positive impact by focusing more intentionally on helping students acquire the entrepreneurial skills that make that possible.”

The foundation’s pledge will allow Wheaton to integrate social innovation efforts more formally within the college’s offerings and provide additional expertise and guidance for students who are seeking to launch an organization or enterprise. The Foundation also will consider establishing a $1 million endowed fund to provide program support for the newly created faculty position, once the college hires the first faculty member for the role.

At the same time, the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation philanthropic commitment launches a $5 million challenge for renovating the Science Center as a space for housing the college’s social entrepreneurship programs, as well as its business and management program, the principal makerspace laboratory on campus and the psychology department.

Building on current programs

The college launched social innovation programs with the Wheaton Innovates Now (WIN) program in 2015 with support from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. The establishment of hub reflects the strategic plan that the college community developed under President Hanno’s leadership. The center’s staff includes both a program coordinator and an entreprenuer-in-residence to support students’ learning.

The WIN program’s current offerings include the Wheaton Institute for Social Entrepreneurship, a semester-long program that begins and ends with an intensive bootcamp offered in partnership with the Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship Network (GCSEN); summer internships assisting new ventures at MassChallenge in Boston, the world’s leading start-up incubator; and an annual entrepreneurship pitch competition and award program.

In addition to MassChallenge, the college also partners with the Social Entrepreneurship Greenhouse, facilitating innovation from its location in Providence, R.I.; and the College for Social Innovation in Boston.

Wheaton College is a private, liberal arts college in Norton, Mass., that emphasizes the combination of rigorous academic study with experiential learning opportunities for every student. Wheaton students enjoy exceptional outcomes after graduation; 98 percent find success in gaining employment, pursuing graduate or professional studies or earning a post-graduation fellowship within six months of graduation. The Princeton Review named Wheaton to its list of “Colleges That Pay You Back.” The college also has been named a top 50 Liberal Arts College by Times Higher Education and the Wall Street Journal for two consecutive years.