The floor on which Adrienne Bevis Mars ’58 stood in October 2021 was a cloud of smoke and slate-colored dust from the renovation that was underway in the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services. The evidence of heavy construction was everywhere. Exposed ductwork, partial walls, power tools and building materials were all on view.
Mars scanned the cavernous room as her tour guide described how the space would be improved: the addition of an elevator for accessibility, installation of extra-large screens for group presentations in the main room, dedicated space for peer advising sessions and study groups, new conference rooms for testing, and more.
“It’s going to be fabulous,” she said.
The Filene Center’s update was part of the larger renovation project that resulted in the Diana Davis Spencer Discovery Center Dedicated to Free Speech and Innovation. Funding for the $31 million project began with a $5 million challenge grant from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation in 2018. Mars and her husband, John, were among the leadership donors to answer the call.
In celebration of that commitment, one of the main spaces in the Filene Center is named the Gertrude Adams Career Design Studio in honor of her mother.
“I wanted to do something special for my mother. She was a very interesting lady, very much an independent-minded person,” Mars said, explaining why the career design studio is such a good match for honoring her mother. “She had many different jobs during her life. She was in one of the first ‘Rosie the Riveter’ classes at the Parker plant in Cleveland, Ohio, making airplane parts during World War II. When we lived in Florida, she opened a gym and massage business. She was way ahead of her time.”
The idea of the career design studio would appeal to her, Mars said. “My mother was very practical and believed in following her own mind with confidence. And that’s what I would want for all Wheaton students—that they would have the courage and conviction to do whatever it is that they want to do.”
The space provides a home for the peer-mentoring program that is part of career services. The students who work in the studio have undergone special training to help peers explore potential career paths with the center’s full-time professional counselors and their faculty mentors. Established in 2020, the program aims to deepen engagement in career and professional planning early in the college experience to ensure each student takes full advantage of the opportunities Wheaton offers.
The career design studio will not be the first Wheaton resource to bear the Gertrude Adams name. The Mars family made a gift in 1988 to establish a career development program that bears her name and has benefited hundreds of students over the years.
And the impact of Mars’s devotion to Wheaton extends far beyond the college’s career services program. Now a life trustee, she served actively on the Board of Trustees for 31 years, holding a variety of roles, including vice chair of the board and the executive committee, campaign co-chair and presidential search committee member.
The family’s philanthropic investments in Wheaton, which began with annual fund gifts immediately after Mars graduated, have transformed the college, too. Their $10 million gift to Wheaton inspired construction of the $46 million Mars Center for Science and Technology and supported the renovation of Meneely and Watson halls, which are now known as Mars Arts and Humanities. Beyond that, other programs, including student-faculty research collaborations, have also benefited from their generosity.
During her tour of the Discovery Center, Mars jumped at the opportunity to follow the hallways that connect the latest renovation to the science building that bears her family’s name. Sunlight streamed through the hallways on this particular Saturday morning, lighting up the labs and classrooms.
Near the Diana Davis Spencer Café, she stopped to peruse a collection of historical photos hung on the wall and pointed to an image from 1956 of two young women examining a small plot of land in the Wheaton Woods.
“A biology class studying their quadrats. I took that class and spent a year with my quadrat,” she said.
The recollection led the history major to reflect on professors with whom she studied during her four years at Wheaton, including the legendary and beloved Jane E. Ruby, a professor of history from 1954 to 1976 and provost from 1976 through 1978.
“She would invite us to her home on a regular basis; I was great friends with her after I graduated, too,” Mars said. “The faculty at Wheaton have always been fabulous because they care about the students.”