The road ahead

Farmers marketIf you ask students about their favorite new “thing” at Wheaton this year, chances are you will hear about the farmers’ market. On Fridays at noon this fall and spring, local organic farmers and artisans set up their wares on tables in the Dimple (or in the atrium at Balfour-Hood) and attracted brisk business from students, faculty, staff and a few neighbors who were in the know.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction. The farmers’ market featured lots of good things: fresh fruits and vegetables, artisan breads, locally made cheeses, smoked fish, organic honey and much more. Student groups contributed to the bounty, too, making and selling panini with organic ingredients and traditional Vietnamese spring rolls; they also sold the fresh salad greens harvested from the student-run greenhouse next to the Presidents’ House.

The most remarkable thing about it, from my perspective, is that the market owes its existence to student initiative. It was created through the leadership of the student-run group, AfterTaste, with help from the provost’s office administrative assistant, Bernice Morrissey, and Jennis Heal, executive chef with Wheaton’s food service provider, Aramark. It exemplifies what can be accomplished when the college empowers students to be leaders and entrepreneurs, and it provides the space to experiment with new ideas. It’s also a good example of one way to create opportunities for learning.

This is an important objective for Wheaton. Creating such opportunities connects to the college’s Integrated Strategic and Financial Plan, which calls for increasing student enrollment by 120 students over the next four years. One of the keys to doing this successfully is improving the student living/learning experience. Quite simply, our goal is to do even better what Wheaton has always done so well: propel students on their path to making a difference in the world.

Being supportive of students’ interests and ideas is not sufficient, in and of itself, however. The college must provide appropriate facilities and resources. For example, the Mars Center for Science and Technology, which will open this summer, reflects the college’s commitment to providing facilities that support student learning. This building project, the largest in the college’s history, will transform the campus, creating a space that encourages interdisciplinary scholarship and collaboration.

Of course, the college plans to make many other improvements as well. The Meadows residential complex will be the focus of a major upgrade this summer. This project will result in a complete refurbishment of rooms that will positively affect approximately 290 students, as well as renovation of a large gathering space within that complex of buildings. This work will complement the improvements made last summer on the lower campus, as well as the additional housing that opened in the fall, creating a more comfortable living environment. And while no immediate plans exist, improvements in many other areas, from athletic facilities to campus gathering spots, are also being considered.

While these improvements are essential, the college also must continue to focus on supporting student scholarship through financial aid. The quality of the Wheaton experience is enhanced when the college admits students from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of interests and experiences. This is diversity, broadly understood. Increased financial aid plays a critical role in enabling the college to keep a Wheaton education within reach for talented students, regardless of their families’ financial resources.

Alumnae/i play an important role in all of this. Through philanthropy, the college’s ability to provide student financial aid is growing. Since 2006, the gifts of alumnae/i, parents and friends have created more than 100 new scholarships. This is an excellent beginning to meeting students’ needs. Through Go Beyond: Campaign for Wheaton, the college will raise more than $45 million for student scholarships.

Volunteer service is also critical. Alumnae/i can make an enormous difference in our students’ lives through their participation in the college community. For example, more than 30 graduates spent one Saturday afternoon in February talking with current students—freshmen and sophomores as well as juniors and seniors—about their academic experiences and their careers. The event, which was called Major Conversations, provided current students with valuable insight into how their undergraduate scholarship can help connect them with their future professional and intellectual goals. Through our alumnae/i network, graduates offer this kind of mentoring all the time. It is yet another opportunity for learning, and incredibly valuable to, and much appreciated by, our students.